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Niagara Public Health has identified six possible cases of COVID-19 variant

Region doing 'intense follow-up' of cases linked back to individuals who traveled to GTA
Screenshot 2021-02-19 at 4.14.39 PM
Mustafa Hirji showing a curve representing how spread could look when public health measures are lifted. Photo: Screenshot

Niagara Public Health is investigating six possible cases of the mutated variant of the COVID-19 virus in residents, the region's acting medical officer of health told media during a briefing at noon on Monday.

The results are preliminary and do not indicate what variant they could be from, said Dr. Mustafa Hirji.

"All we know is that six people have been screened as having one of the variants. We are awaiting further results and have done very intense follow-up with them since we are very concerned with the variant," Hirji said during the briefing.

The cases have been linked back to travel between the GTA and Niagara.

If confirmed, the six cases would be the first to reach the region since the mutated, more infectious variants of the virus arrived in Ontario, sparking concerns of another dramatic spike in infections due to the more fast-spreading nature of the mutations.

While Niagara has seen a drop in the regular variant of the virus since early February, the number of cases still sits at a much higher rate than last year's initial wave of the virus.

Niagara is poised to shortly moved to the Red-zone of the province's rainbow reopening framework, which Hirji says might mean that infections will start to pick up again, and also potentially open up for the variant to take hold in the region as travellers begin to venture down from the heavily-hit GTA.

"It is certainly reassuring that we don't have any unidentified community spread, but as the variant spreads it will seed in Niagara, and that will be an ongoing concern for us," said Hirji.

Advocating for a measured approach to reopening to keep cases low, Hirji said two recent Section 22-orders, prohibiting indoor dining with members outside the household, and more rigid oversight of social distancing at retailers are two ways the region is bracing itself for when things start to open back up.

Despite success in vaccinating vulnerable groups in the community, Hirji underlined that the general population will not begin to see vaccinations happen before next fall, per provincial projections.