The Omicron variant has arrived in Canada, with two cases identified in Ontario just days after Ottawa and other governments imposed travel bans barring the entry of foreign nationals from several countries in southern Africa, where it is. apparently appeared for the first time.
Both cases are in Ottawa and are linked to a recent trip from Nigeria, according to a statement released on Sunday by Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health. . Ottawa Public Health is handling cases and contacts, and patients are in isolation, the statement said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said genomic surveillance, as well as border surveillance, had identified the cases. The agency said early data suggests the Omicron variant may be more transmissible than previous iterations of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The World Health Organization has named it as a variant of concern because it contains dozens of mutations that scientists say could allow it to escape vaccines, although the evidence is limited at this time.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos will meet his G7 counterparts on Monday to discuss the new variant, his office said.
Not yet clear if the Omicron variant is more transmissible or causes more serious disease, according to WHO
What we know so far about the new variant of COVID-19 first identified in South Africa
Travel bans have left some Canadians stranded abroad, including members of Canada’s junior women’s field hockey team, who are in South Africa to compete in a World Cup tournament.
Team members spent nearly two days traveling from Victoria to Potchefstroom, South Africa, eager to represent Team Canada at the FIH Women’s World Cup of Junior Hockey. On Sunday, the tournament was canceled and return flights were canceled. The athletes, all between the ages of 18 and 21, were grappling with shock and disappointment – and worried about what happened next.
“It’s obviously pretty scary knowing that there are no flights in and out of South Africa at the moment,” said Stefanie Sajko, 21, of Victoria.
She said the players received a call from Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge on Saturday.
“She can’t guarantee or promise anything, but she was very helpful in saying that she was there for us,” she said. “She wants us to know that they are doing everything they can to help us. “
Nora Struchtrup, 19, said the team will need clearance from other countries to land and then connect to Canada as there are no direct flights.
A statement from Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of Canadians who have been affected by the new travel measures, although it declined to provide details due to confidentiality considerations.
Susan Ahrens, CEO of Field Hockey Canada, said the organization is in constant contact with people on the ground in South Africa and with its system partners in Canada to coordinate a quick and safe repatriation for the ‘team.
“It’s speculation to set a timeline,” she said. “We expect this to be a week to organize things. But, again, these timelines are not in our control and we have to wait for our government partners to receive information within the next 24 hours. “
She noted that the team consists of 25 members, including athletes, coaches and staff.
Ms Struchtrup, also from Victoria, said several of her teammates broke down when they learned of the tournament’s cancellation, which was scheduled for December 5-16.
“We all put a ton of work into it. We are all looking forward to it. We wanted to do it for each other. We wanted to do it for our families, ”she said.
But “we never doubted it was the right decision”.
The Omicron variant was reported last week in several places in Africa, where it has been linked to a sharp rise in the number of infections. It has also been identified in travelers in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
Canadian officials said more cases are expected to be found in Canada, but vaccines and public health measures continue to work to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Ms Struchtrup said she and her teammates were doing well and feeling safe in their training camp at Northwestern University as they have a very small bubble. The team continue to train and are well looked after by the local hosts, she added.
“They threw us a little traditional South African barbecue last night to cheer us up,” she said.
“We are truly in the best of the worst cases. “
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