The first case of a new, highly mutated variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 was first detected in Canada, British Columbia health officials said Tuesday.
The variant, designated BA.2.86, has been confirmed in the Fraser Health region and affects an individual who had not traveled outside the province, according to a joint statement from the province's health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Secretary Adrian Dix.
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“To date, there does not appear to be any increased severity in this strain of COVID and the individual is not hospitalized,” the statement said.
The new variant was first detected in Denmark in July and has since been confirmed in several countries, including the United States.
The World Health Organization has classified BA.2.86 as a “variant under surveillance” due to the presence of a large number of mutations.
The agency described the monitored variants as showing early signs of a “growth advantage” relative to more dominant circulating variants and requiring further evidence of their potential impact.
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“It was not unexpected that BA.2.86 appeared in Canada and the province. The risk to the people of BC has not changed. “COVID-19 continues to spread around the world and the virus continues to adapt,” the British Columbia Health Authorities statement said.
“Reducing transmission and maintaining a high level of protection through vaccination continue to be our best defense against all variants of COVID-19. Vaccinated people are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19 or require hospitalization.”
The province said the variant's discovery reflects its efforts to monitor COVID-19, including continued and new testing wastewater monitoring.
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It added that no other cases of the variant have yet been identified by British Columbia's wastewater monitoring, with the XBB 1.5 variant still being the most common in the province.
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The province's latest sewage data from Aug. 13-19 showed that the COVID-19 viral load in the Vancouver metropolitan area's sewage facilities decreased, while remaining stable or slightly increasing in inland and Vancouver Island facilities.
As of August 3, BC had 76 people hospitalized with COVID-19, down from over 300 at the end of April.
The British Columbia government plans to launch its next vaccination campaign in September or October, using a monovalent vaccine targeting the XBB 1.5 variant.
The National Advisory Council on Immunization has recommended a fall booster shot, particularly for people over age 65 who live in long-term care homes, are pregnant, or who are at high risk from other underlying conditions.
Some health experts have warned that Canada may be at the start of a new wave of COVID-19 after months of low transmission of the virus.
The Canadian Health Authority is also tracking the spread of BA.2.286.
-With files by Sean Boynton, Aaron D'Andrea and Elizabeth McSheffrey
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