Heading into the beginning of December, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has now officially landed in Canada, with two cases confirmed in Ottawa.
"Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria," a statement from Christine Elliott, Ontario's Deputy Premier and Minister of Health on Sunday reads. "Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation."
The province has expanded eligibility for provincially-funded COVID-19 PCR testing to individuals who have returned from, or travelled in, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6. This includes asymptomatic household members.
The best defence against the Omicron variant is stopping it at our border. In addition to the measures recently announced, we continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant.Christine Elliott, Ontario's Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
Ontario will review public health measures if Omicron spreads
At a press conference on Monday, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, did specify that these two individuals identified as being infected with the Omicron COVID-19 variant landed at the Montreal airport, where their testing was originally done, and the Ontario government received their result in conjunction with federal and provincial authorities.
"We are investigating other cases so I would not be surprised if we find more in Ontario because we've got a very robust surveillance system," Dr. Moore said.
Ontario has 375 individuals that have returned from the seven Southern African countries in the last two weeks. There are four other individuals whose whole genome sequencing results the province is waiting on, two people in Ottawa and two in the Hamilton area.
"If we see widespread presence of Omicron across Ontario, which is not the case at present, then we could review any measures that we need to take at a provincial level, as well as certainly work with our public health agency colleagues about limiting the number of international flights, potentially to one or two airports, where can have concentrated testing and assessment capacity," Dr. Moore said on Monday.
Dr. Moore added that while this news is "concerning," vaccination and public health measures have been working to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but enhanced testing of returning travellers is needed at this point.
We need further information on how well our vaccine works against this strain. We need further information on how well some of the monoclonal antibodies, so some of the therapeutics we have, would work against it.Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health
"We also need more information on the severity on this virus in terms of its ability to cause severe illness and hospitalization, or intensive care unit requirement."
This comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the new COVID-19 variant, initially detected in South Africa, a variant of concern last week.
The Canadian government responded to concerns about this"highly transmissible"variant by introducing travel restrictions and a ban on foreign nationals coming into the country from seven African countries.
"We still don't know if it’s more transmissible," Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Friday. "There’s certainly signals in South Africa itself that in one region, one of the localized areas, that there’s been an acceleration in the number of cases."
"The border is never 100 per cent but each layer provides an additional layer of protection."
The WHO has now called the variant a "very high" global risk with "considerable uncertainties," with cases now also detected in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, Portugal, Australia, the Netherlands.