Seven probable cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. have been discovered in Pauingassi First Nation in eastern Manitoba.
Several COVID-19 samples from Pauingassi were screened at the Cadham Provincial Lab, which identified the presence of markers that may be of the B117 coronavirus variant of concern, according to a news release from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs issued on Saturday evening.
These samples have been sent to the National Microbiology Lab for genomic sequencing which will confirm whether they are positive cases of the variant.
“This is clearly a very serious situation that continues to evolve and change. We are working closely with our counterparts to ensure reliable and swift information sharing for our citizens and will continue to work diligently to ensure that we protect our citizens at this time,” said Chief Roddy Owens in a news release.
It’s not known if the cases are connected, nor how the variant entered the community, said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who answered media questions on behalf of the community on Saturday night.
He said the news is concerning, knowing that the variant is more contagious and possibly more deadly.
“It’s quite shocking and it just shows you just how sneaky this COVID really is and how quickly things can escalate and how precarious we really are,” he said.
Army, local leaders working to contain spread
Dr. Marcia Anderson with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ pandemic response team said the people have been self-isolating since their initial diagnosis and have also been told about the possible variant presence.
“Aggressive public health actions targeted at identifying any further contacts to these cases and ensuring they are tested and are isolating according to public health requirements will help contain the spread of this possible variant of concern,” she said in the release.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and ensure the safety of all First Nation citizens and work with all First Nations as [the] situation evolves.”
Last weekend, 18 members of the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in the community to assist with a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases affecting about a quarter of the people at the time.
Owens said that Saturday they would be there for two weeks to help monitor critical infrastructure, deliver food and supplies and do wellness checks.
CBC News has reached out to the Canadian Armed Forces for an update on the mission.
Pauingassi First Nation is a fly-in community of about 500 people, which is about 280 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
This news comes after the province reported one case of the B117 variant in Manitoba on Tuesday.
The person had travelled from Africa to Europe and then to Winnipeg before testing positive for the virus. They had seven household contacts, but none of them tested positive for the virus.
It’s not known if the case reported on Tuesday and the probable cases reported in Pauingassi are connected.
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