Four cases of a coronavirus variant first reported in the UK have been found in Canada, raising concerns across the country.
After the first two cases of the variant were found in Ontario on Saturday, two more were found in British Columbia and Ottawa.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said all the cases have been connected to travelers from Britain. Officials first reported two cases that were linked to community spread, but after further investigation, they announced Sunday that a couple had been in contact with someone who had recently returned from the United Kingdom.
The health agency said that while early data suggest the new variant may be more transmissible, there is no evidence it causes more severe symptoms or has an impact on the effectiveness of vaccines.
Although data show less than 2 percent of coronavirus cases in Canada are linked to international travel, the Ontario government said Saturday that the discovery of the variant was "not unexpected" due to international travel.
The government is screening large volumes of positive virus samples to investigate how prevalent the UK variant is in the province.
"This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today," Dr Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health said in a statement.
Ontario reported 2,005 coronavirus cases and 18 deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday. The province went into lockdown in an effort to reduce positive cases. Other provinces also have closed nonessential businesses and urged people to not gather or travel over the holidays.
The variant, which scientists believe is as much as 70 percent more transmissible, has been detected in several countries, including France, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands and South Korea.
To contain the spread, on Dec 20, Canada announced a 72-hour travel ban on flights from the UK. The ban was later extended until Jan 6. Travelers are being asked additional health screening questions to help identify whether their travel itineraries included a country reporting the variant in the last 14 days prior to their appearing at a Canadian port of entry.
Canada has approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The federal government is expecting to receive 6 million doses of the two vaccines by the end of March. The vaccines are distributed to the provinces and territories to administer on a per capita basis.
Quebec on Monday reported 2,265 new coronavirus cases and 37 COVID-19 deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 8,060. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 1,124. with 150 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, according to a provincial dashboard.
The national death toll since the pandemic began earlier this year is 15,001.