Canada’s Most Famous Ski Resort Epicentre of P1 Variant Outbreak

The variant of concern is more than two times more contagious, deadlier, and can reinfect people who are presumably immune.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
April 12, 2021, 3:34pm
Whistler ski resort
Tourists are seen at the base of Whistler Mountain in Whistler, B.C. Sunday, March 15, 2020. The Whistler Blackcomb resort which is owned by Vail Resorts shut down operations Saturday due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis taking place worldwide. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canada’s famous Whistler ski resort town has suffered the worst outbreak of the highly infectious P1 COVID-19 variant outside of Brazil.

Authorities in British Columbia shut down the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort last month after community spread of P1, deadlier than the original COVID-19 strain and linked to a traveller from Brazil, surged. On April 6, Whistler accounted for 197 cases, nearly one quarter of all of British Columbia’s P1 cases, CTV reported. Today, B.C. is still Canada’s P1 hotspot, reporting 974 cases in total as of Monday morning. 

“We all kind of felt that it could happen to us,” a resort maintenance employee told the Guardian. “People just come here from everywhere—that’s kind of what makes this place what it is.”

The Whistler area has reported multiple outbreaks since the pandemic’s onset.

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Part of the problem is that it can be hard to isolate and limit close contact: many young people live in shared housing, while jobs, largely in the service sector, force mostly young people in contact with others. 

Vancouver Coastal Health, the public health authority, has “recorded three successive waves of COVID-19 in Whistler throughout the pandemic where the majority of confirmed cases were among adults 20 to 39 years of age,” a VCH statement says

In the last two weeks of March, a “significant percentage” of Whistler’s young workforce was vaccinated, and as of Monday, all residents in Whistler are eligible for the vaccine, the statement says.

The P1 variant is about 2 1/2 times more infectious than the original strain and has the ability to reinfect those who’ve already recovered from the illness. 

The main worry, experts say, is that P1 could worsen vaccine effectiveness: at least two people who contracted the P1 strain in Whistler had previously been vaccinated, the Guardian reported.

Early research even suggests that out of every 100 COVID-19 survivors, 25 to 61 could contract the virus again if exposed to P1. 

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The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks have been off the ice for two weeks after reporting their own P1 outbreak. As of Wednesday, 25 people associated with the team, 21 players and four staff, had tested positive for COVID-19. All players and staff went into quarantine after the first COVID-19 cases were detected, with games expected to return on Friday. 

P1 is now travelling eastward, resulting in multiple workplace outbreaks in Alberta, a province also suffering from Canada’s spiralling third wave. So far, the province has recorded 102 infections caused by P1. Ontario, the country’s most populous province, has 134 P1 cases.

After a year of avoiding some of COVID-19’s worst global outcomes, Canada has found itself in the throes of a deadly pandemic third wave that’s only getting worse. The country was one of the first to suffer from all three variants of concern—P1 as well as B117 and B1351, P1—simultaneously, has surpassed the U.S.’ rate of new COVID-19 infections, and isn’t able to vaccinate its population fast enough to suppress the current surge of the virus. 

Ontario reported a record-breaking high of 4,456 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday. The same day, Canada reported 7,712 new cases in total. And as older people across Canada get vaccinated, younger Canadians are increasingly starting to bear the brunt of the pandemic and experts are increasingly worried a “fourth wave” will target them. 

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