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Canadian officials confirm two cases of new COVID-19 strain seen in UK

Officials in the Canadian province of Ontario on Saturday said they have detected two confirmed cases of the new coronavirus strain that first appeared in the United Kingdom (U.K.). 

According to Reuters, officials identified the new variant in a southern Ontario couple with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contact. 

The report comes as the province instituted a new lockdown, with 4,301 new COVID-19 cases reported over the past two days and more than 2,000 infections per day for 12 straight days. 

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“This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer, said in a statement Saturday, Reuters reported. 

While experts are still looking into the origins and transmission of the new strain, scientists believe the variant is about 40 to 70 percent more transmissible than the original.

A study released this week by the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine put the rate at 56 percent more contagious. 

Canada last week extended a ban on passenger flights coming from the U.K. to Jan. 6 and expanded screening and monitoring measures from South Africa due to the rise of the new strain. 

It is unclear if the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and approved by Canada and other countries earlier this month is effective at preventing this variant. 

Moderna said in a statement on Wednesday that its vaccine will likely be able to protect people from the new strain, adding that it planned to run tests to confirm the vaccine’s efficacy. 

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Canada on Wednesday authorized use of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for broad use, clearing the way for the second vaccine to be distributed throughout the country.

The vaccine is indicated for use in people aged 18 years or older. Moderna is conducting additional studies in children from 12 years of age and older, so the guidance could be revised in the future. 

As of Saturday, Canada has had nearly 541,000 COVID-19 cases, with more than 14,700 fatalities due to the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

Several other countries, including Australia, Italy and the Netherlands, have also reported cases of the new infectious strain.