WINNIPEG -- As Manitoba gets ready to ease restrictions slightly, health officials say they are keeping a close eye on the possibility of other COVID-19 variants entering the province.

The COVID-19 case count has levelled out in Manitoba with 173 cases announced on Friday, the majority of which are still occurring in the Northern Health Region.

Even though cases aren't nearly as high as they were in November and December, Dr. Jazz Atwal, the acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said Manitoba continues to monitor for other variants that have popped up around the world.

Atwal said so far, no other variants have been found within the province.

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, anytime there has been cases identified or lab-confirmed COVID cases, at random during the early processes, those swabs would also be sent to a national lab where genomic sequencing would be done," said Atwal.

He added this process has been happening not only in Manitoba but throughout the country as well.

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, said on Friday two different variants have been found in Canada.

"To date, the National Microbiology Laboratory reports 31 cases of the B 117 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom, and three cases of the B 1351 variant that was first identified in South Africa," said Tam.

Atwal also said officials in Manitoba have been looking at targeting specific samples to send to the national lab.

"We are focused on those returning travellers, international travellers. We also look (at) outbreak situations and select a few samples from outbreaks or cluster investigations to send to genomic sequencing as well and then there are some samples that are sent at random," said Atwal.

Manitoba health officials did announced two new deaths linked to COVID-19 on Friday and there are 3,261 active cases in the province.