Ontario health officials have confirmed multiple cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant of concern that has set off a new set of travel restrictions around the world, mostly barring flights from southern Africa.
Ontario first confirmed Sunday that two cases of the Omicron variant were detected in Ottawa in recent travellers from Nigeria.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, confirmed Monday evening that two other travellers had tested positive for the new variant of concern, later confirming that they, too, had recently travelled from Nigeria.
All four people travelled independently, she said, and are now self-isolating.
There are also 15 other recent travellers from southern Africa currently isolating and monitoring for symptoms in Ottawa but there are currently no further suspected Omicron cases awaiting sequencing in the city, Etches said.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said Monday that two additional cases are under investigation for the variant in the Hamilton area.
Michelle Baird, Hamilton’s director of epidemiology, wellness and communicable disease, said later in the day that the city’s two possible cases were being screened for the variant because they were in recent travellers from South Africa where the strain was first detected.
The Omicron variant was recently declared the fifth variant of concern by the World Health Organization since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Moore said those initial two cases in Ottawa were first tested for the virus in Montreal when they arrived in Canada. Quebec later confirmed a case in a recent traveller from Nigeria on Monday.
Moore said public health units are also reaching out to 375 people who have returned from countries deemed by the federal government to be high risk for the variant and are offering them testing.
He said the province would also like to offer testing to all returning travellers, not just those from the seven designated countries in southern Africa.
Moore urged Ontarians to “remain calm,” adding he doesn’t see the need to step backwards and roll back any restrictions at the moment.
He said if Omicron is “less lethal,” then it will have a lesser impact on the province’s health system. The new variant may be more contagious, however, experts do not yet know the severity of the Omicron COVID-19 strain.
Moore said the province will most likely have an announcement later this week in regards to vaccinations and expanding third dose availability. He said an “accelerated third dose strategy” would be part of the new measures the province could introduce as a way to fight the new variant.
Health officials are calling on Ontarians to continue to limit social contact, especially with the holiday season coming up. Moore said officials are seeing a lot of transmission coming through social networks.
The Omicron variant has already been found in a multitude of countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Britain and Germany.
— With files from Don Mitchell
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