Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott released a statement Sunday evening confirming two cases of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron in Ottawa.
Those affected have reportedly traveled from Nigeria and are in isolation to stop the spread.
The variant was first detected in South Africa. After the announcement, many countries, including Canada, banned flights from the country.
In response to concerns about the Omicron variant, the Government of Canada implemented improved border measures for all travelers on November 26, who were in any country in the southern Africa region. However, Nigeria was not one of those countries.
“The best defense against the Omicron variant is to stop it at our border,” the statement read. “We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to impose point-of-arrival testing for all travelers.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada said early data shows the Omicron variant is more transmissible. “There is an international data collection underway to determine the impact of this variant on the severity of the disease and on the effectiveness of the vaccine,” the agency said.
The World Health Organization has said the Omicron variant has a higher risk of reinfection in people who previously had COVID-19, compared to other variants of concern. However, the information is limited.
“Understanding the severity level of the Omicron variant will take days to weeks,” the WHO said in a statement.
The WHO has called for caution, as South African experts called the variant “mild,” revealing that the majority of cases involve university students and younger patients tend to have milder symptoms.
Preliminary data collected by the WHO shows an increase in hospitalizations, which could be due to the increase in the overall number of infections instead of a specific infection of Omicron.
“There is currently no information to suggest that the symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those of other variants,” the WHO said.
Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore assured Ontario is ready and ready to respond to the new variant. Ontario’s COVID-19 Genomics Network is actively monitoring all potential variants circulating in the province.
“Ontario has the infrastructure in place to manage epidemics,” said Elliott. “Ontario is ready and ready to respond to the new variant.
The Ottawa Public Health Agency is conducting case and contact management to find more variant cases. People are encouraged to get vaccinated, including receiving booster shots if they are eligible. “Vaccination is likely to still provide significant benefits,” said Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease physician and scientist.
Canadians are advised to avoid traveling to countries in the Southern Africa region as they may be forced to stay outside the country for longer than expected.
On the other hand, the WHO has urged countries around the world not to impose travel bans. Matshidiso Moeti, the agency’s regional director for Africa, called on countries to respect international scientific and health regulations.
“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19, but take a heavy toll on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti said. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive. “
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called the restrictions “completely unjustified”.
Moeti praised the governments of South Africa and Botswana for quickly informing the world about the new variant. The country’s national laboratory reported to WHO as soon as the Omicron variant was identified.
Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said he has spoken with health officials in Ontario and that as surveillance and testing continues, more cases of the variant should be found.
Ontario is today reporting 964 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death from the virus.
The figures mark the highest daily number of cases in the province since May 30, the last time new infections hit the 1,000 mark.
With files from The Canadian Press.