Two more cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in Ottawa, after Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said the province’s first two cases were detected with random testing at the Montreal airport, when the travellers first arrived in Canada. Dr. Kieran Moore said Monday the federal government needs to implement mandatory testing for all incoming travellers – not just those from southern Africa, where the variant was first detected – to help Canada respond to this new threat.
Two individuals are still awaiting results of whole genome sequencing to determine if they also have the Omicron variant, Dr. Moore said in a briefing Monday. The province and federal government are working to contact a total of 375 people who arrived in the province in the past two weeks from seven African countries that have reported Omicron activity.
Also Monday, a single case of the Omicron variant was confirmed in Quebec, health minister Christian Dubé said at a press conference. The government has contacted 115 travellers who have recently been to southern African countries and instructed them to undergo another PCR test and isolate themselves.
Dr. Moore said Ontario is also working on a plan to accelerate booster doses to certain at-risk groups in the province and expects an announcement later this week.
“You can anticipate potential acceleration of our third dose strategy,” Dr. Moore said.
Currently, only some individuals, such as those 70 and older and those with certain immune-compromising conditions, such as those undergoing treatment for solid tumours, are eligible for boosters. Some infectious disease physicians say eligibility should have been expanded weeks ago to include more seniors and more vulnerable groups, such as dialysis patients.
The Omicron variant has caused alarm around the world in recent days because there are reports it could be more transmissible than Delta and could evade some protection offered by available vaccines. Scientists don’t yet have answers to these questions, but hope to know more in the coming days.
In response to the news of the variant, the federal government announced last week that foreign nationals from seven Southern Africa countries won’t be permitted entry into Canada. Canadian citizens, permanent residents and people with status under the Indian Act will have to undergo testing, screening and quarantine.
But many experts say the travel restrictions are discriminatory, as the variant has been identified in numerous other countries, including the United Kingdom and Belgium, and that officials should instead focus on rolling out booster shots and reducing capacity for indoor gatherings.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos attended an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers Monday to discuss the emergence of the variant and a spokeswoman said more information about the virtual G7 meeting would be released later Monday.
Dr. Moore said he doesn’t anticipate sending Ontario back into a lockdown, but that officials will monitor the situation closely to determine if changes are necessary.
Dr. Moore said Ontario will also be looking to expand the use of COVID-19 treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, to help reduce severe illness in unvaccinated individuals. Ontario currently has a pilot program in Hamilton to look at the use of monoclonal antibodies in unvaccinated patients. But those therapies remain unavailable in northern Ontario regions, which have the highest case rate in the province.
Mr. Dubé, meanwhile, said Quebec will not tighten its public health rules and will continue to study whether the variant is resistant to vaccines and how contagious it is before acting. But he praised the federal government for acting quickly to tighten travel restrictions for those who have been to the southern African nations where the variant was first detected.
“The federal government, and I want to thank them for this, have been very, very rigorous.”
Mr. Dubé also urged Quebeckers to continue observing existing public health rules about the wearing of masks indoors and limiting private social gatherings, and to be careful while travelling.
“What we’re asking Quebeckers who travel abroad is to remain extremely vigilant.”
- With files from Eric Andrew-Gee and The Canadian Press
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