Manitoba’s top doctor declined Monday to explain how a recent international traveller infected with a coronavirus variant of concern accumulated 27 close contacts upon returning home.
However, such lapses underscore why people need to follow pandemic restriction orders, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.
"I won’t speak specifics about an individual, but it’s definitely not the goal of the Quarantine Act measures, it’s not the goal of our travel restrictions, to have someone have 20 contacts."
On Feb. 19, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal announced three new B.1.1.7 cases related to international travel had been detected in the province. Public health had identified close contacts to each person, most of whom were household contacts. One individual had as many as 27 close contacts, Atwal said Friday.
The province did not answer questions about whether the travellers had followed self-isolation requirements for international travel, as set out under federal law, or say if any of the travellers had been exempt from such orders.
However, a provincial spokesperson said contact tracing has indicated "very little risk" of public exposure to these cases — and if there was a "significant public risk," it would be announced.
All travellers have recovered from the disease and have completed their isolation, the province noted. No additional variant cases have been announced thus far.
"Moving forward, what we’re trying to say is we need to rely on Manitobans, we need to understand that this is really important," Roussin said. "And when you’re advised to self-isolate, if you don’t have any contacts, and you become a case, that transmission chain is ended.
"When you have 20 contacts, very, very likely there’s going to be many cases linked to that, and especially if it’s a variant of concern."
Roussin said it’s critical for Manitobans to follow the fundamentals "100 per cent of the time" to avoid seeing community transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant that first emerged in the U.K., and the coronavirus more generally.
"Just one lapse like this could bring many, many people with that variant of concern," he said.
Roussin said the turnaround time to receive genetic sequencing results from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg has improved. Manitoba only reports variant cases after they’ve been confirmed by the NML.
The latest variant cases have been linked to flights the last week of January. However, the province only reported the variants Feb. 19, after the travellers had recovered (a period of at least 10 days).
"We are now screening all of our eligible test positives… then those plus other random and other targeted samples are being sent for sequencing," Roussin said. "There was some delays earlier on, now we’re finding that those test turnaround times have improved quite a bit."
A request for comment from Health Canada was not returned by deadline.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.