The provincial health officer says 47 cases of COVID-19 variants have been identified in the province, including the first case in Canada of a variant believed to be linked to Nigeria. Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday the new variant, labelled B.1.525, was recently found in a young person from the Interior Health region who is currently self-isolating. The variant is under investigation but so far it has not been linked to any transmission in B.C. “We aren’t entirely clear yet whether this variant also has increased transmissibility or causes more severe illness, but our lab team is working with their counterparts across the country and internationally to get a better understanding of what this can mean,” Henry said, adding scientists need to know whether it is more easily transmissible or causes more severe illness. It is the first time that particular variant has been identified in Canada. B.C. also has 29 cases related to a variant first identified in the United Kingdom and 17 associated with South Africa. She says variants of concern do transit more quickly and cause more severe illness though it’s reassuring that only three cases were recently identified among 3,099 cases that were tested for the variants. This week, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has been ramping up screening for new COVID mutations to determine how many variants of concern are circulating throughout the province. Henry said this week B.C. is also monitoring for the California variant CAL.20C, which has been linked to a surge in cases in Southern California. Henry reported 445 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 72,750 cases in the province so far, along with 10 more deaths, totalling 1,288 fatalities since the start of the pandemic. She urged residents to maintain restrictions on gatherings during the Family Day long weekend, which coincides with Lunar New Year celebrations, but says colder weather may reduce travel, meaning “Mother Nature is going to be on our side.” “We are trending in the right direction, pushing our curve down, but slowly. And we need to ensure our success sticks, which means staying the course with our layers of protection and continuing to follow all of the public health restrictions and guidance.” Henry says first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in long-term care and assisted-living facilities have meant a dramatic drop in outbreaks at facilities across the province. She says second doses still must be administered to most residents and staff but there’s clear evidence that first doses have slowed down transmission of the virus. Henry says an increasing number of vaccine doses are expected to arrive in B.C. next week and onward after a slowdown in deliveries. It is hoped that these variants of the virus will not increase the infectivity, otherwise the situation will be too bad. The vaccine has slowed the spread of the virus. Hope that the vaccine can be popularized to more people.