COVID-19 Variants of Concern (VOCs)

Genetic variations of viruses, such as the one that causes COVID-19, are common and expected.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will naturally develop mutations, which are changes to the genetic material in the virus over time.

When there have been several significant mutations to the virus then it’s called a variant. A variant is of concern when it affects:

  • disease spread
  • disease severity
  • tests used to detect the virus
  • vaccines and treatments

Monitoring the variants

The Public Health Agency of Canada works with the provinces and territories, and other partners to monitor and identify variants of concern in Canada. We’re following the first identified variants in the United Kingdom (B. 1.1.7 variant), South Africa (B.1.351 variant) and Brazil (P.1 variant). Monitoring for genetic changes in the virus allows us to understand better the potential impact of the mutations.

Total number of variants of concern reported publicly in Canada

Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) public health officials are advising northern residents that COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) are increasing in northern Saskatchewan. These VOCs are 30-70 percent more transmissible, meaning they spread more easily thus it’s more important than ever before to follow the Public Health Order.  Getting tested, knowing your COVID-19 status, getting your COVID-19 vaccine shot, and following the safety guidelines can help protect yourself, your family, and your community.

About the new variants

These new variants of concern include mutations that seem to make the virus more infectious, allowing it to spread more easily. They may also affect the severity of the disease.

At this time, there’s evidence that some variants may have an impact on certain drugs and vaccines. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

The variants don’t currently affect diagnosis through authorized laboratory tests.

Given the limited data on the new variants, more research is needed to confirm these early findings. The Canadian and global medical, public health and research communities are actively evaluating these variants and other significant mutations.

  • The virus that causes COVID-19, like all viruses, is constantly changing.
    Globally, there are multiple COVID-19 variants of concern, most notably the following have been detected in Canada:

    • (Alpha) B.1.1.7
    • (Beta) B.1.351
    • (Gamma) P.1
    • (Delta) B.1.617.2
    • (Omicron) B.1.1.529
  • They were initially imported via travel from outside the country. However, we are now seeing an increase in community spread of these variants of concern
  • The Government of Canada continues to work with the provinces, territories and Indigenous partners to track and respond to these variants of concern
  • Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) continues to:
    • review new research and information about the COVID-19 variants as they become available
    • provide updates

Contact tracing and testing

  • The COVID-19 point of care tests cannot detect if a case of COVID-19 is caused by the original COVID-19 strain or the variants of concern. In order to test for variants, positive samples undergo sophisticated testing in provincial and national laboratories
  • If an individual’s sample is suspected or confirmed as a variant of concern, local public health authorities will contact that person about the next steps to be taken
  • The absolute risk of death associated with the variants of concern remains relatively low. However, as the variants can spread more easily than the original COVID-19 strain, ISC strongly encourages actions are taken to ensure all possible close contacts of infected persons are identified. This will ensure timely detection of new cases and reduce the spread of transmission
  • Local public health, First Nations community nursing stations and health centres will continue to work together to follow provincial or territorial guidelines for:
    • contact tracing
    • testing
    • isolation
    • other public health measures

Public health measures

  • For First Nations communities, we recommend that people with presumptive or confirmed COVID-19 variants of concern who live with others in overcrowded or poorly ventilated housing:
    •  isolate in alternative isolation accommodations when possible
    • insure that all household contacts wear medical masks indoors
  • This is an important step to stop the variants of concern from spreading to other people in the household as well as the community. Individuals should follow their provincial or territorial advice on alternative isolation accommodations and isolation protocols
  • Additional studies are needed to determine the optimal length of isolation for close contacts. This will be influenced by the circumstances of the exposure. Individuals should follow their provincial or territorial health authority’s guidance for isolation or quarantine after COVID-19 exposure, including exposure to variants of concern
  • Until a large number of people across Canada are vaccinated and we understand the virus following vaccination, everyone must continue to follow public health measures including:
    • washing your hands often
    • staying home when you’re sick
    • maintaining physical distancing
    • wearing a face mask, even if you’ve been vaccinated



As with any other communicable disease in First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, public health follow-up and management of COVID-19 cases and contacts is coordinated by Indigenous Services Canada for south and central First Nations communities and by the Northern Inter-tribal Health Authority (NITHA) for the northern First Nations communities.

The Government of Canada supports First Nations and Inuit communities in preparing for, monitoring and responding to COVID-19. For more information click here.