For the first time, the NWT confirms a Covid-19 variant of concern
A case of Covid-19 confirmed at the NWT’s Diavik diamond mine earlier this week is a variant of concern, the territory says, the first time it has reported such a case.
In a news release late on Thursday, the territorial government said a laboratory in Alberta had confirmed the virus in question is the B117 variant of Covid-19, otherwise known as the “UK variant” as it was first identified in the United Kingdom.
The mine is approximately 300 kilometres north-east of Yellowknife. Other than the Diavik case, there are currently no active cases of the virus responsible for Covid-19 in the NWT.
The Diavik case, first reported by the NWT government on March 29, is the 76th confirmed case of the virus in the territory and the first to be identified as a variant form.
Several variants, such as those first identified in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil, are considered concerning by health officials as they appear to either spread more easily or cause more severe forms of illness.
“The individual and other people identified as contacts are currently self-isolating at a secure location onsite. The individual is doing well,” the territory said in its Thursday statement.
The territorial government said the individual – who is not an NWT resident – was not believed to have acquired the infection at the mine.
“All screening measures to try and prevent introduction of Covid-19 infections were in place,” the NWT government said.
The territory said it was working closely with the mine to ensure safe isolation for the person and their contacts continues at the site.
“The company will test all employees at the mine site and continue to work with Public Health officials to mitigate transmission risk,” said the GNWT.
On Friday, Diavik owner Rio Tinto said in a statement: “Our number one priority is keeping our employees, contractors and communities safe. Diavik continues to follow guidance from the Chief Public Health Officer of the Northwest Territories and the Public Health Agency of Canada, with extensive precautionary measures in place to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.”
“Routine monitoring and follow-up will continue with the individual and contacts. Medical staff are continuing to monitor and assess all worksite employees per standard Covid safety protocols,” said the territorial government.
“There is no identified risk to NWT communities related to this infection at this time,” the statement continued.
“The introduction of a variant of concern into the NWT is a new development in the pandemic, and we must be vigilant in our response to this.”
The territory said there was “strong evidence” the Moderna vaccine – that used for all NWT vaccinations to date – is “very protective” against the UK variant.
“The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer anticipated it would see variants of concern, such as B117, at some point in the NWT and it is prepared to handle them,” the territory concluded.