Variants are viruses that have changed or mutated while reproducing inside an infected person’s cells. Variants can spread to others and may continue mutating as they move from person to person. It is normal for viruses to mutate over time.

Variants of concern can spread more easily. They can also cause more serious illness that could result in more hospitalizations and deaths as they become common in the community.

COVID-19 variants of concern were first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. These strains have since been detected in Alberta and in countries around the world.

Alberta is monitoring for variants spreading in our province. Confirmed cases are updated daily.

See variant case data in Alberta

Variants in Alberta

To date, 3 variants of concern have been identified in Alberta. The B.1.1.7 variant is spreading rapidly and has become the dominant strain in Alberta.

Anyone who has been infected with a variant strain will test positive for COVID-19. Positive tests are screened again for all variants to determine the exact strain.

  • B.1.1.7 Variant (United Kingdom)

    First identified in the United Kingdom, this is now the most common variant of concern in Alberta.

    Research to date has shown this variant spreads more easily and can cause more severe illness.

    Vaccines continue to be effective against this variant.

  • B.1.351 Variant (South Africa)

    First identified in South Africa, research has shown this variant spreads more easily and may be capable of re-infecting people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19.

    Vaccines may be somewhat less effective against infections with this variant, but will provide some protection against severe outcomes.

  • P.1 Variant (Brazil)

    First identified in Brazil, research has shown this variant spreads more easily and is capable of re-infecting people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19.

    It is unknown if vaccine effectiveness is changed against this variant.

What we know

Knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 variants is evolving rapidly. Scientists and public health officials around the world are studying variant strains and how the current vaccines may help protect against them.

Current evidence suggests the variants of concern have one or more of the following traits:

  • are more contagious and spread more easily than the original strain
  • cause more severe illness, which could result in more hospitalizations and deaths
  • have the same symptoms as the original virus, including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, and sore throat (see the full list of symptoms)

Vaccine effectiveness and protection

Vaccines provide some level of protection for all variants of concern. Research is ongoing to determine how the variants affect vaccine effectiveness.

The best defense against COVID-19 and all variants of concern continues to be:

Case study: How one case turned into many

One Albertan returned from travel with a case of a COVID-19 variant of concern. Instead of quarantining alone for 14 days following return from travel outside Canada, the infected traveller socialized with a friend during quarantine.

It kicked off a chain of COVID-19 infections that spread far beyond that one case. This is a real case, discovered during contact tracing.

This infographic shows the spread of a COVID-19 variant of concern from one person to 42 from January 1 to February 5.

Learn more about COVID-19 variants: