February 12, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
The Government of Canada is taking a multilayered approach to detecting and addressing variants of concern in Canada. To this end, the government developed a monitoring program with provinces and territories to identify new COVID-19 virus variants in Canada, such as the ones originating in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1). Today, the Government of Canada is increasing our capacity to find and track these variants in the country by investing $53 million in an integrated Variants of Concern Strategy. This will help rapidly scale up our surveillance, sequencing and research efforts.
The Government of Canada is working with provinces and territories and the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) to rapidly scale up sequencing and scientific efforts to detect known and potentially emerging COVID-19 virus variants of concern. This national strategy brings together public health and genomic sequencing along with epidemiology, immunology, virology, and mathematical modelling. Through this partnership, we are leveraging existing laboratories and expertise to drive public health investigations and take public health action rapidly.
This partnership involves the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) National Microbiology Laboratory (NML), Health Canada, Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). To implement the Strategy, PHAC’s NML is providing $20 million and CanCOGeN is providing $8 million to increase genomic sequencing and real-time data sharing capacity. CIHR is providing up to $25 million to scale up Canadian research to increase our understanding of emerging variants and provide decision makers with rapid guidance for drug therapy, vaccine effectiveness, and other public health strategies.
Funding will expand upon existing public health networks to establish regional clinical and public health teams to quickly identify and characterize variants of concern. Through the Strategy, we will also standardize data sharing across Canada and facilitate the access of information on the variants from national and international databases. This rapid sharing of information with researchers is imperative to an effective international response to the variants of concern. The funding will also create a research network to complement surveillance efforts and public health actions as part of an integrated team, and provide key information on the biological relevance of the variants to inform public health decisions.
The Variants of Concern Strategy is part of our science and evidence based response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 virus variants of concern continue to emerge, Canada will be prepared to detect, track, and treat these new cases.
To keep each other safe, Canadians should continue to practice public health measures, and should get tested if they experience symptoms.
“We will always act to protect the health of Canadians. These new investments in research and genome sequencing will allow public health officials to rapidly gather further evidence to inform public health measures and reduce the spread of these COVID-19 virus variants of concern.”
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health
“Given the increasing presence of known variants in Canada, it is vital that we mobilize the research community to assess these emerging variants and inform decision-making related to therapeutic and public health strategies. With the launch of this rapid research response, CIHR is contributing to our national efforts to keep Canadians safe and our international efforts to stop the spread of these SARS-CoV-2 variants.”
Dr. Michael Strong, President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
“Genomics is at the heart of tracking new and emerging variants of concern of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Genome Canada is proud to lead the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN), a network of federal, provincial and regional public health labs, industry partners, hospitals, research institutions and large-scale sequencing centres dedicated to genomic surveillance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Together we are generating data to inform regional and national public health and policy decision-making and contributing to global efforts to track viral evolution and spread. Our genomic surveillance efforts will help reduce the spread of variants of concern and positively impact the health of Canadians and others around the world.”
Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada
- The NML has been leading the implementation of whole genome sequencing in Canada along with provincial public health laboratories.
- These new investments are in addition to the $40 million the Government of Canada contributed to support the creation of CanCOGeN in April 2020, to help understand the genetic variations of the virus as it evolves.
- Currently, there are three main well-defined COVID-19 virus variants of concern that are circulating globally, including the:
- B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom,
- B.1.351 variant originating in South Africa, and
- P.1 variant originating in Brazil.
- These variants seem to make the virus more infectious, allowing it to spread more easily.
- The NML is providing critical scientific leadership for Canada’s response to COVID-19. NML scientists are world leaders in genomics and its use as a surveillance tool. The work done by NML and its partners informs the priorities for sequencing in Canada to quickly identify variants and inform public health measures, such as travel restrictions, that help mitigate their introduction and spread.
- Canadians are advised to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada and avoid all cruise ship travel until further notice. Canada’s official global advisory, cruise ship advisory and pandemic COVID-19 travel health notice are still in effect.
- On January 29, 2021, the Government of Canada announced new border measures, flight restrictions and enhanced testing and quarantine measures, to reduce the risk of importation of the new virus variants related to international travel.
- The Government of Canada is providing $4.28 billion to support provinces and territories with the costs of increasing their capacity to conduct testing, perform contact tracing and share public health data that will help fight the pandemic.
- On April 23, 2020, the Government of Canada announced more than $1 billion in support of a national medical research strategy to fight COVID-19 that includes vaccine development, the production of treatments, and tracking of the virus. This new funding builds on the $275 million investment for coronavirus research and medical countermeasures announced in March 2020.
- On January 29, 2021, CIHR announced three research initiatives to address the COVID-19 virus variants. CIHR will provide supplementary funding for CIHR-funded COVID-19 researchers studying variants to accelerate research and lead the formation of a variant network to coordinate and align efforts in this field.
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health
Public Health Agency of Canada