Efforts to track the transmission in Manitoba of a much more contagious strain of COVID-19 are expanding as part of a private lab's agreement with the province.
Dynacare Labs is expected to expand sequencing capacity in Manitoba to check for the highly infectious and potentially more dangerous Delta B.1617 variant, which devastated India earlier this year and is expected to become the dominant strain in Canada. Dynacare had been sending Manitoba COVID-19 test results to Ontario for screening and sequencing, but as of June 22, the company is set to begin conducting sequencing for the Delta variant in Manitoba.
A Dynacare spokesman said the lab will change the process in order to conduct additional sequencing on all of the samples that test negative for certain genetic mutations (484k and 501y) that could indicate a variant of concern. Previously, only a sample of positive COVID-19 test results were sent for sequencing.
"We had to set up a program from a technical perspective to begin to perform sequencing for the Delta variant, and are on track to start next week. It is no more or less challenging than sequencing for any other variant, and just required some lead time to prepare for operationally," a Dynacare spokesman wrote in an emailed response to a Free Press inquiry.
About 12 to 15 per cent of Manitoba's positive COVID-19 test results are sent for sequencing through Dynacare and the Cadham Provincial Laboratory. Genomic sequencing takes about a week to complete. It is the only way for labs to confirm the presence of the Delta variant, because existing rapid screening tests that can detect some genetic mutations in the virus within a day or two don't reliably detect it. A provincial spokesperson said screening tests to detect Delta are still being developed at the provincial and national levels.
As the Delta variant spreads rapidly in the U.K. and other parts of the country, some experts have pushed for the need to more rigorously track this strain. On Friday, with 154 Delta cases confirmed in Manitoba, a group of local doctors called for the province to slow reopening plans until it can properly assess the impact of the variant.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.