What we know so far about the Omicron variant, which was found in Canada
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr Theresa Tam, said on Friday that some of the mutations found have the potential for greater transmissibility and could reduce natural immunity as well as the immunity offered by vaccines.
WHERE WAS IT FOUND?
Outside of South Africa, cases of Omicron have been confirmed in a growing number of countries. Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong are among those who have reported cases. Spain confirmed its first case on Monday, in a traveler from South Africa.
Portuguese health authorities, meanwhile, have identified 13 cases of Omicron in members of a top football club and are investigating possible local transmission of the variant. This would be the first reported case of local transmission outside southern Africa.
The first two cases in Canada, confirmed in Ottawa, involve people recently returned from Nigeria, according to Ontario’s top doctor. Dr Kieran Moore said Monday the province is investigating four other possible cases – two in Ottawa and two in the Hamilton area. Moore said it would not be surprising to see more cases, adding that the province is performing genome sequencing on all positive COVID-19 tests to help detect the variant.
Ontario’s public health units are also offering testing to 375 people recently returned from countries Canada considers at high risk for the variant, he said.
WHAT IS CANADA DOING?
Canada announced last week that it was no longer allowing visitors from southern Africa in an effort to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
The ban applies to foreign nationals who have stayed in seven listed countries in the last 14 days, including South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini. Nigeria – where the two confirmed Canadian cases were located – is not on the list.
Travelers who have passed through the listed countries and are already in Canada must self-quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.
Ottawa also issued an advisory discouraging non-essential travel to South Africa and neighboring countries. The federal government has said it will impose additional border restrictions if necessary.
Opposition parties and some provincial leaders are pressuring Ottawa to enact tough border measures to keep Omicron out of the country. Ontario’s top doctor said the province wants testing for all returning travelers, no matter where they are from.
WHAT ARE OTHER COUNTRIES DOING?
Several other countries have also enacted travel bans focused on southern Africa, along with more stringent screening measures.
The United States has banned travel from South Africa and several other countries in the region as of Monday. Others, including New Zealand, Israel and the European Union, have also restricted or banned travel from the region.
Japan announced on Monday that it was suspending the entry of all foreign visitors.
The World Health Organization, however, has urged countries to avoid using travel restrictions, saying they “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE COVID-19 VACCINES AGAINST OMICRON
It’s not yet clear, but vaccine makers are looking into the matter.
– with files from the Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 29, 2021.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press