Seven probable cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. have been discovered in Pauingassi First Nation in eastern Manitoba.

Several COVID-19 samples from Pauingassi were screened at the Cadham Provincial Lab, which identified the presence of markers that may be of the B117 coronavirus variant of concern, according to a news release from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs issued on Saturday evening.

These samples have been sent to the National Microbiology Lab for genomic sequencing which will confirm whether they are positive cases of the variant.

“This is clearly a very serious situation that continues to evolve and change. We are working closely with our counterparts to ensure reliable and swift information sharing for our citizens and will continue to work diligently to ensure that we protect our citizens at this time,” said Chief Roddy Owens in a news release.

It’s not known if the cases are connected, nor how the variant entered the community, said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who answered media questions on behalf of the community on Saturday night.

He said the news is concerning, knowing that the variant is more contagious and possibly more deadly.

“It’s quite shocking and it just shows you just how sneaky this COVID really is and how quickly things can escalate and how precarious we really are,” he said.

Cases involving coronavirus variants are now believed to be in all 10 Canadian provinces.

Army, local leaders working to contain spread

Dr. Marcia Anderson with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ pandemic response team said the people diagnosed at Pauingassi have been self-isolating since their initial diagnosis and have also been told about the possible variant presence.

Anderson noted the community has been under a stay at home order since early Feb. and the COVID-19 situation in Pauingassi appears to be improving. 

“The cases are being reinterviewed. We want to make sure that any contacts that may have been missed are identified at this point in time so they can be tested. But it will be a lot of continuing on the current course, testing contacts, testing people who maybe are symptomatic,” she said.

Anderson said she expected to see more cases of the B117 variant in urban centres before it spread to First Nations.

“It is surprising to me that it has shown up potentially this early,” she said.

Eighteen members of the Canadian Armed Force landed in the remote northeastern community of Pauingassi First Nation a week ago. (Submitted by the Canadian Armed Forces)

Last weekend, 18 members of the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in the community to assist with a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases affecting about a quarter of the people at the time. 

Owens said that Saturday they would be there for two weeks to help monitor critical infrastructure, deliver food and supplies and do wellness checks.

CBC News has reached out to the Canadian Armed Forces for an update on the mission.

Pauingassi First Nation is a fly-in community of about 500 people, which is about 280 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

This news comes after the province reported one case of the B117 variant in Manitoba on Tuesday.

The person had travelled from Africa to Europe and then to Winnipeg before testing positive for the virus. They had seven household contacts, but none of them tested positive for the virus.

It’s not known if the case reported on Tuesday and the probable cases reported in Pauingassi are connected.

WATCH | Dr. Roussin says B117 variant detected in Manitoba:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday a coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. has been identified in the province. The individual had travelled internationally and had five household contacts, Roussin said, but there is no evidence of further transmission within the province. 1:08



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