Ontario is investigating four more possible cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant of concern, and the province’s top doctor said it’s likely more will be detected after an initial two cases were confirmed over the weekend.
Dr. Kieran Moore said two of the potential cases are in the Hamilton, Ont., area and two are in Ottawa. That’s in addition to the two confirmed cases in Ottawa announced Sunday — Canada’s first known cases.
“I would not be surprised if we find more in Ontario because we’ve got a very robust surveillance system,” Moore said Monday. Ontario is performing genome sequencing on all positive COVID-19 tests, which Moore said will help detect variant cases.
The new variant, which may be more transmissible, has prompted several countries including Canada to introduce travel restrictions. Travel bans have focused on countries in southern Africa where community spread is known, though cases have since been found across the globe.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the first variant cases in Canada, in two people who had recently been in Nigeria, were first tested for the virus in Montreal when they arrived in Canada.
Public health units are also reaching out to 375 people who have returned from countries deemed by the federal government to be high risk for the variant and are offering them testing.
People who recently arrived in Canada from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are eligible for COVID-19 tests and are also required to quarantine. The federal government has also closed its borders to visitors from those countries.
Moore said Monday that the province wants testing to be offered to all returning travellers, not just those from the seven designated countries in southern Africa, and said Ontario is working with Ottawa on that idea.
He also said the province is looking at its strategy for third COVID-19 vaccine doses and other measures to better protect people from the variant, though he noted it’s not yet clear how infectious it is, if the strain will make people sicker or how effective vaccines are against it.
After slowly rolling back restrictions based on high vaccination rates and proof of immunization requirements in some settings, the province has maintained that it will only reintroduce public health measures at a local level.
Some public health units have already done so in light of rising case rates, with some in northern and southwestern Ontario tightening capacity limits in some settings, among other moves.
Moore said Monday that the province will stick with that approach, but might reconsider it if the Omicron variant is found to be widespread, though that wasn’t the case as of Monday.
Nearly all cases in Ontario at the moment are the highly contagious Delta variant. Moore said the focus should be on fighting that strain, which vaccines are known to be effective against.
“We should remain focused on that on the present threat, which is Delta,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021.