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Scientists say variants could be dominant strains by next month

Last Updated Feb 10, 2021 at 9:08 am MDT

CALGARY (CityNews) – Alberta is reopening but this time with the added threat of new, more infectious COVID-19 variants that could become the dominant strain within months.

Some scientists are nervously watching restrictions ease, with the worry Canada could see a rapid transition to these mutations.

“We shouldn’t be opening up now because it will speed up the process, so the new variant will be even faster, and become dominant even faster, and the third wave will come even earlier,” said Malgorzata Gasperowicz with the University of Calgary.

“Well, it’s not the third wave coming, it’s us, it’s us generating the third wave.”

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On Monday, Alberta opened gyms to personal training and restaurants for dine-in service with limits on capacity and service. While Quebec and Ontario look at gradually easing health orders.

“Like Ontario, we’re seeing more screening and more genomic testing for variants and the more we look, the more we see that’s it’s already there,” said Jean-Paul Soucy, Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto. “I know this testing is coming online in other places too, such as Alberta.”

Gasperowicz projects variants like B.1.1.7 could be dominant by Mar. 4, doubling cases every nine days, leading to a thousand daily cases in two weeks.

The UK strain is 40-70 per cent more contagious and has been linked to community spread in Alberta.

“So once that replaces the old one, given that conditions remain the same in terms of how much people are contacting each other, we would expect the trend in cases to turn around and start growing exponentially overall,” added Soucy. “So, it certainly does make me nervous when we talk about indoor dining returning.”

Scientists are looking at the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel differently as some argue vaccine efficacy with variants can be treated with booster shots. But what about the summertime with warmer temperatures and more people heading outdoors?

“It’s hard for the disease to spread when we’re all outside,” said Soucy. “I think it would be unwise to kind of fling open the doors before then because you really could see a third wave in March.”