Toronto Public Health says they have identified 57 COVID-19 variants in the city but stress the discovery of new variants is “the tip of an iceberg.”
Officials say as of February 17, 56 of the variants are of the UK strain (B.1.1.7) and one confirmed case of the Brazilian variant (B.1). There are currently no confirmed cases in the city yet of the South African variant, also known as B.1.351.
However, Public Health Ontario is currently conducting whole genome sequencing on 341 other cases that have screened positive for a mutation.
Toronto public health officials say in a statement that while current case counts “do not seem bad,” the number of variant cases increased by 20 in just the last week alone.
“While there has been a downward trend in many of the key indicators, I am highly concerned about where the pandemic is headed,” said Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa. “We are in a precarious situation and face exponential growth, due to the increased transmissibility of the variants.”
Data posted by TPH shows the majority of variants are mostly spreading among people aged 20-39 and that almost 31 per cent can be attributed to community spread while 27 per cent is due to household contact. Only 11 per cent due to travel.
Toronto officials point out that Germany saw its proportion of UK variant cases increase by 22 per cent in two weeks while closer to home, Newfoundland and Labrador has had almost 300 cases linked to the UK variant after confirming just over 700 total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
The Ontario government is set to reveal on Friday whether or not Toronto and Peel Region will re-open, joining the majority of the rest of the province. Dr. de Villa, along with her counterpart in Peel, have advocated against re-opening for at least two more weeks.
Mayor John Tory says it’s important that the lockdown we’re currently in “is the last one”.
“Our public health officials have been clear about the risk of a third wave,” said Tory. “The worst mistake we could make right now is to ignore the advice of our medical experts and to begin to re-open too quickly. We absolutely do not want to find ourselves opening things up, even slightly and then having to close down again a few weeks from now.”