British Columbia officials confirm Canada’s first case of COVID variant BA.2.86

British Columbia health authorities have confirmed a case of SARS-Cov-2 strain BA.2.86, the first such infection detected in Canada.

The COVID-19 variant was recently added the World Health Organization list of the monitored variants.

While BA.2.86 isn't currently driving the ongoing surge in infections in Europe, the US, and Canada, it does have some mutations that “raise an eyebrow,” according to Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a Toronto-based infectious disease expert spoke to about the variant last week.

“There were components of this mutation that were reminiscent of BA.2, which we saw much earlier in the Omicron era,” he said. “There were (also) components that resembled the delta mutations.”

Bogoch, along with BC health officials, emphasized that the variant was only recently discovered and it is too early to say what impact, if any, it will have on the development of COVID-19 in Canada.

“The BC Center for Disease Control has identified the first case of an individual infected with the BA.2.86 variant of Omicron in British Columbia in an individual from the Fraser Health region who has not left the province,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer and Health Minister Adrian Dix in a joint statement on Tuesday.

“It is the first known case of this variant in Canada. To date, there does not appear to be any increased severity with this COVID strain and the person is not hospitalized.”

Health officials said the detection of the variant in British Columbia is evidence of the province's ongoing surveillance of the coronavirus, both through testing and sewage monitoring.

“It was not unexpected that BA.2.86 appeared in Canada and the province,” the two said. “The risk to the people of British Columbia has not changed. COVID-19 continues to spread around the world and the virus continues to adapt. Reducing transmission and maintaining high levels of protection through immunization continue to be our best defense against all variants of COVID-19.”

Although Henry and Dix described the risk to the British Columbians as unchanged, their announcement in 2023 in the context of COVID-19 was unusual.

The province did not issue any public comments on BC's first detection of other Omicron subvariants such as the XBB and EG.5 strains.

According to Dix and Henry, XBB.1.5 remains the most commonly reported subvariant in BC and no further cases of BA.2.86 have been detected in the province to date.

“We urge all people in British Columbia to continue to follow public health advice and stay home if sick, wear masks where necessary, observe respiratory etiquette, wash hands frequently and, most importantly, about to stay up to date on their vaccinations,” officials said.

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