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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people and others cause illness in animals. Human coronaviruses are common and are typically associated with mild illnesses, similar to the common cold. COVID-19 is a new disease that has not been previously identified in humans. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people, and more rarely, these can then spread from person to person through close contact.

How Canada is monitoring COVID-19

The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with provinces, territories and international partners, including the World Health Organization, to actively monitor the situation. Global efforts are focused on containment of the outbreak and the prevention of further spread.

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer of Canada is in close contact with provincial and territorial Chief Medical Officers of Health to ensure that any cases of COVID-19 occurring in Canada continue to be rapidly identified and managed in order to protect the health of Canadians.

Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory is performing diagnostic testing for the virus that causes COVID-19. The laboratory is working in close collaboration with provincial and territorial public health laboratories, which are now able to test for COVID-19.

For more information, visit the COVID-19 daily epidemiology update.

COVID-19 variants 

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 (for example, whether you have mild symptoms or require hospital care)

  • tests used to detect the virus

  • protection from previous infection, vaccines or treatments


Monitoring the variants

Monitoring for genetic changes in the virus allows us to better understand the potential impact of the mutations.

The Public Health Agency of Canada works with the provinces and territories, and other partners to monitor and identify variants of concern in Canada.

Overall, variants of concern represent the majority of recently reported COVID-19 cases across the country.

Current variants of concern in Canada include:

  • Alpha (B.1.1.7)

  • Beta (B.1.351)

  • Gamma (P.1)

  • Delta (B.1.617.2)

  • Omicron (B.1.1.529)


Evidence demonstrates that Alpha and Delta variants are at least 50% easier to spread than the original version of the virus identified at the beginning of the pandemic. As well, the Gamma, Beta and Delta variants each have certain mutations that may have an impact on vaccine effectiveness. Early evidence suggests that Omicron is likely more transmissible than other variants of concern to date. Studies are underway to determine how much is due to:

  • Omicron's natural ability to spread

  • a reduction in immune protection following vaccination or previous infection.*

*information above courtesy of Government of Canada. Retrieved 01/15/2022. Click for more details. 


Click here for to refer to Government of Canada's response to COVID-19 for detailed information on Canada's whole-of-government actions to respond to the outbreak. 

Click here to get the latest case data and updates, learn how to get vaccinated and get advice on what to do next if you think you might have COVID-19.

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