COVID-19 Variants of Concern

COVID-19 variants of concern, such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and now Omicron, continue to spread globally. The first variant of concern detected in Canada was in December 2020. This variant, Alpha (B.1.1.7), was originally identified in the fall of 2020.

Our knowledge and understanding of these variants is rapidly evolving. Provincial public health officials continue to review the emerging evidence and modify responses to delay their spread and limit their impact.

Naming of COVID-19 Variants of Concern

Pango Lineage WHO Label
B.1.1.7 Alpha
B.1.351 Beta
P.1 Gamma
B.1.617.2 Delta
B.1.1.529 Omicron

Visit the World Health Organization for more information on the naming of COVID-19 variants of concern and variants of interest.


Viruses like the one that cause COVID-19 are constantly changing through mutation. New variants occur over time; sometimes, the new variants emerge and disappear, while others last.

Different variants of concern of the virus that causes COVID-19 are currently circulating in Manitoba, and globally. This includes a variant called B.1.1.7 (Alpha), which was originally identified in the fall 2020. Other variants of concern have also been detected, including ones Beta (fall 2020), Gamma (winter 2021), Delta (spring 2021) and Omicron (fall 2021).

COVID-19 variants of concern may:

  • Spread more quickly in the population compared to the current strain. For instance, it only took the Delta and Alpha variants a few months to become the most dominant strains circulating in their respective countries. Quicker virus spread may result in higher numbers of cases that can affect health system capacity and may require stronger or additional public health measures.
  • Cause more severe disease. Information is rapidly evolving on the impacts of VOCs, with emerging evidence on increased risk of disease severity and death. We continue to monitor the effects of all variants.
  • Compromise natural or vaccine induced immunity. Mutations may interfere with the ability of antibodies to recognize or stop the virus, and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Research is ongoing to determine impacts on vaccines, including how vaccine manufacturers can alter vaccines to address mutations that occur.

Given these potential changes, public health officials at all levels (internationally, nationally and provincially) continue to actively monitor and study emerging COVID-19 variants.

Manitoba's approach is focused on vaccinating as many Manitobans as possible and reducing the spread of COVID-19 variants of concern by:

  1. Laboratory screening of positive COVID-19 specimens for mutations associated with variants of concern to allow early detection. This is followed by a confirmation test.
  2. Aggressive case and contact management to slow the spread of COVID-19, including variants of concern, in the province.
  3. Ongoing reviews of public health measures to align with changing national guidance and incorporate emerging evidence.
  4. Ongoing monitoring of known and emerging variants in Manitoba.

The new variants spread the same way as the original COVID-19 virus. Manitobans should continue follow public health orders, limit contact with others as much as possible, and focus on the fundamentals to limit the spread of COVID-19 (including variants) and protect yourself and those around you. Be sure to:

  • check yourself for symptoms every day
  • stay home when you are sick, even if symptoms are only mild
  • get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19
  • maintain social (physical) distancing
  • wear a mask when social (physical) distancing is not possible
  • wash your hands when social (physical) distancing is not possible
  • follow all public health advice and direction if you have returned from travel or have been identified as close contact to a case with a variant of concern

Yes. Research is still ongoing to determine impacts on vaccines, including how vaccine manufacturers can alter vaccines to address mutations that occur.  Our best defence against COVID-19 and variants of concern is to vaccinate Manitoba’s population, in addition to following public health orders and following the fundamentals.

Public health officials are treating every positive case as if they have a VOC, which includes more aggressive case and contact management overall. This has become the standard approach for all cases and contacts, regardless of the type of COVID-19 strain that is causing the infection. There is no difference in how public health manages cases or contacts that have a VOC identified, as the majority of cases are now due to a VOC.