February 12th, 2021 – Windsor-Tecumseh, Ontario
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.
“Our government will continue to do whatever it takes, for as long it takes, 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 in Windsor-Tecumseh and across Canada.”
Irek Kusmierczyk, Member of Parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh
“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