Officials have confirmed the first cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant to have been detected in Canada, but they have cautioned that it is still unclear how transmissible and severe an infection caused by the highly mutated variant could potentially be.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that two people from Ottawa, who had recently returned from a trip to Nigeria, had tested positive for a strain of the virus that had previously been discovered in southern Africa.
They entered Canada through Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, where COVID-19 testing had been completed, and then traveled to Ottawa, according to officials in the province of Ontario on Monday. All of the patients are being held in isolation while Ottawa Public Health is taking care of their cases and contacts.
The province is also investigating four additional possible cases of the Omicron variant, two of which are in the Hamilton, Ont., area and two of which are in Ottawa.
Ottawa Public Health issued the following statement on Monday: “The government of Ontario announced yesterday that two individuals in Ottawa had tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which was contracted while traveling to Nigeria recently. According to our current knowledge, there are two additional returned travelers who have tested positive for the Omicron variant.”
Each of the four individuals has chosen to isolate themselves.
During a press briefing on Monday, officials in Quebec also confirmed the presence of one case of the Omicron variant.
Despite the fact that Ontario and Quebec are the first provinces to confirm the presence of the variant, health officials across the country have begun targeted testing of people who have traveled from one of the seven southern African countries that are subject to federal travel restrictions.
Canadian public health officials are contacting people who have traveled from “one of the countries of interest” in the past 14 days, according to Alberta’s top doctor, who said they are being told to self-isolate.
In a tweet on Sunday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said, “We are working with health officials across the country to closely monitor the Omicron situation.” “At this time, there have been no confirmed cases of this COVID-19 variant in the province of Alberta.”
Experts predicted that it would only be a matter of time before the variant made its way to Canada from elsewhere. While federal officials claim that the detection of the cases demonstrates that COVID-19 screening efforts are effective, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says that Canadians should expect more cases of the variant to be confirmed on Canadian soil in the future.
According to Duclos, “this development demonstrates that our monitoring system is operational.”
In the meantime, “as monitoring and testing with provinces and territories continues, it is expected that additional cases of this variant will be discovered in Canada.”
IN THE CASE OF THE OMICRON VARIANT, WE UNDERSTAND THAT
There is little information available about the B.1.1.529 variant, now known as Omicron, which was recently designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, despite the fact that the variant has been linked to a rapid increase in cases in South Africa, WHO officials state that it is not yet known whether the variant is more transmissible or causes more severe illness than other coronavirus variants.
Researchers have expressed concern about Omicron’s initial research because it contains more than 30 mutations of the spike protein, which can alter the way a virus infects cells and spreads. It is also possible that these mutations will make it more difficult for the body’s immune system to attack them.
On Monday, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, told reporters that it is still too early to determine what impact the Omicron variant may have on public health protocols or the province’s health-care system. He noted that there is a lack of data on the variant’s transmissibility.
When we first noticed Delta taking over as the dominant strain, it was three to four months later… Depending on how infectious [Omicron] is compared to Delta, the transition could take two to three months, according to him. “We will have more clarity in the coming weeks,” says the team.
While news of this latest variant has prompted some to call for an increase in COVID-19 booster shot campaigns — such as in the United Kingdom, where officials have moved to offer booster shots to all adults just three months after their second dose — some experts say we need to learn more about the mutation before drawing conclusions about how vaccinations will be impacted by the mutation.
In addition, “there’s really no evidence linking boosters specifically to protection against this variant, and I believe there are a lot of other steps we need to take first,” she says. “I believe it would be premature, therefore, for us to jump immediately to the conclusion that “boosters are our solution,” as she puts it.” The importance of this was stressed by Dr. Fahad Razak, an epidemiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, during an appearance on CTV News Channel on Saturday.
He went on to say that other public health measures, such as proper air ventilation and filtration, mask use, and vaccinations, continue to be important.
TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS APPEAL TO IRELAND
The confirmation of the arrival of the B.1.1.529 variant in Canada comes just a few days-after-the-country-implemented-new-travel-restrictions-on-foreign-nationals who-had-traveled-to-several-countries-in-southern-Africa-in-the-previous-two-weeks,-including-the-United-Kingdom.
Nigeria, on the other hand, is not included on the list of countries that are subject to Canada’s travel ban.
In a statement released Monday, Moore stated that the province is conducting genomic sequencing on all eligible COVID-19 tests in the province in order to screen for the Omicron and other variants.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that 375 people have returned from the countries of concern and will be contacted in order to be tested for the Omicron variant, according to Moore.
The variant has so far been confirmed in 15 countries — including the United Kingdom (Scotland), Germany, Australia, and Hong Kong — and there has been some concern that simply banning flights from African countries will not be enough to stem the spread of the variant.
In an interview with CTV News Channel on Monday, infectious disease expert Dr. Dale Kalina said that travel bans on specific countries in southern Africa “are not going to be sufficient or will not be what stems the flow of the Omicron variant across our country.”
“The reality is that it’s already here, and it’s not likely to be limited to individuals who-travel-to-other-countries, as-we’re-seeing-around-the-world,”says-the-author.
The quarantine measures and vaccination mandates for anyone entering the country are already in place in Canada, according to the official. and those are the kinds of things that will be extremely beneficial to us.”
In a hearing scheduled for Monday, the federal government is expected to be asked whether it plans to broaden the scope of the travel restrictions to include more countries.
This comes ahead of new re-entry testing requirements for Canadians and permanent residents who have completed their vaccinations. As of Nov. 30, fully vaccinated residents returning home from short trips in the United States and abroad will no longer be required to provide proof of a negative molecular test, such as a PCR test, if they have received their vaccinations in full.
Those returning from trips abroad that last longer than 72 hours must still submit to a molecular test before reentering the country.
On the other hand, officials in Ontario have called for stronger border security measures, suggesting that everyone entering Canada be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival rather than just before leaving for Canada.
“The most effective defense against the Omicron variant is to prevent it from crossing our border. In addition to the recently announced measures, we continue to call on the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travelers, regardless of where they are traveling from, in order to further protect against the spread of this new variant,” said Moore and Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott in a joint statement released on Sunday.