TORONTO – Ontario unveiled Canada’s first two known cases of Omicron on Sunday, a new COVID-19 variant of concern that has led to a number of new border restrictions around the world.
Both cases of the variant were found in the Ottawa area of people who had recently traveled to Nigeria, Ontario’s health minister Christine Elliott said in a joint statement with the province’s top public health official, Dr. Kieran Moore.
“Ontario is prepared and ready to respond to this new variant. Our hospital and intensive care capacity remains stable and the province continues to report one of the lowest rates of active cases in the country, ”the couple said.
They said Ottawa Public Health performs “case and contact management” and patients isolate themselves while the province tests all qualified positive COVID-19 samples to determine their variant.
The federal government has recently banned visitors from seven countries in southern Africa, including Namibia and Zimbabwe. Nigeria is not among them.
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Elliott and Moore’s statement urges the federal government to take stronger action at the border, and suggests that everyone be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, not just before traveling to Canada.
“The best defense against the Omicron variant is to stop it at our border,” they said.
The federal health minister said Ottawa is continuing to assess the situation, but said Sunday’s news should not give rise to alarm.
“This development shows that our monitoring system is working,” Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement.
“I know this new variant may seem worrying, but I would like to remind Canadians that vaccination, combined with public health and individual protection measures, works to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our society.”
Omicron was first discovered in South Africa, where COVID-19 cases have increased exponentially in recent weeks.
The World Health Organization has said that “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection with this variant” compared to other variants, and scientists say it may also be more contagious.