REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced Tuesday that he expects a provincial lab will be able to test for samples of concerning COVID-19 variants by early next month.
He said the Roy Romanow Provincial Lab in Regina is in the process of becoming certified so it can carry out the genotyping on tests for strains that appear to spread more easily.
Currently, samples have to been sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, which means results can take two weeks.
Moe and health officials said testing variants in Saskatchewan will mean more samples can be analyzed more quickly.
The plan comes as health officials said two more cases of the mutation first identified in the United Kingdom were found in two residents in the Regina area.
Moe said the arrival of more concerning variants was always a matter of when, not if, and urged people to keep following current public-health rules to combat further spread.
"Existing public-health orders are effective with variants as they are effective with the original COVID-19 virus," he said at Tuesday's briefing.
The Ministry of Health said the Regina area cases were tested at the end of January and health officials believe there is no link to travel — the first hint of possible community spread of one of the more infectious variants.
The province also reported its first case of the strain initially found in South Africa in a resident who was tested last month and lives in a region that includes Prince Albert.
Officials said there is a presumptive case of the U.K. variant found in someone who was transferred to Saskatoon from out of province to receive acute care.
This brings the provincial total of confirmed variant cases to seven, including the one presumptive case.
Before Tuesday, three cases had been detected in Saskatchewan, but officials said those who were infected had recently travelled or were a close contact with someone who had.
The province's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said he and colleagues from across Canada are looking at how to use public-health measures to best control these variants.
Last week, Saskatchewan asked residents who had travelled interprovincially during the February school break to get tested upon their return to minimize the risk of more infectious strains from entering the community.
Officials told travellers they should also have a followup COVID-19 test seven days later, because that's the best window to catch the virus.
Health officials announced another 122 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and said four more residents had died from COVID-19.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021