The first Ontario couple, one of whom is a doctor, to contract the new COVID-19 variant from the U.K. have been charged, Global News reports.
Brian and Martina Weir are from Durham region in Ontario, east of Toronto. They have been charged with three public-health related offences under the Health Protection and Promotion Act of Ontario.
The act is a provincial law that invests regional medical officers of health with the power to impose restriction or conditions to control epidemics.
The couple in December told public health they had no contact with travellers but that turned out to be false.
“Additional investigation and follow-up case and contact management has revealed that the couple had indeed been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K., which is new information not provided in earlier interviews,” the provincial health ministry said in a Dec. 27 statement, a day after it said the couple had “no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.”
The College of Physicians and Surgeons lists Martina as a doctor who is currently practising at three Durham hospitals and two region-operated nursing homes, Fairview Lodge in Whitby and Hillsdale Terraces in Oshawa.
Durham communications officer Melissa Westover said in a statement “this individual’s engagement with us as a contractor is under review and they will not be doing any work for the region until such review is complete.”
Martina Weir didn’t work in either of the homes between Dec. 11 and Jan. 17, the region said.
“There are no concerns about risk to residents related to this matter as per public health guidance,” Westover said.
Lakeridge Health, one of the hospitals where Martina Weir works, said, “the physician did not enter any Lakeridge Health facilities during December and did not work or provide patient care at any Lakeridge Health hospital during the month of December.”
There are unconfirmed reports that Brian Weir works for the Toronto paramedic services.
Martina Weir made her first court appearance on Thursday in a Whitby provincial offences court. Her husband will appear in court on March 10.
Variant discovery a fluke
Discovery of the couple’s positive case of the new variant came by fluke.
Currently, Ontario’s testing for the variant from the U.K., known as B117, is only done in special circumstances, such as knowing the person travelled outside of Canada recently or had contact with a traveller.
Only Saskatchewan’s testing currently detects B117 in every swab, so it was complete chance that the Durham couple’s test came back positive for the variant.
Public Health Ontario said their swabs just happened to be tested at a private lab, whose facilities screen for B117.
“The test results flagged with the possible variant,” the agency said in an email to CBC News. “The initial flag by the community lab about the two Durham samples was coincidental, in that they were not purposefully searching for the variant.”
The B117 strain emerged in the U.K. in the fall, with the public being made aware of it in December. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant is up to 70 per cent more contagious than COVID-19, however it is not more deadly.
Variant spreading in Canada
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says nationally there have now been 31 cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, and three of the one first found in South Africa.
Tam says the fact that the variants are now circling in the community without a known connection to travel is concerning.
The news comes just after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is some evidence that the U.K. variant may be more deadly than the original virus.
Ontario is reporting 2,662 new cases of COVID-19 today and 87 more deaths related to the virus.
With files from The Canadian Press.