Less than 24 hours after announcing that the first two cases of the Omicron variant here in Ontario, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore took to the media studio at Queen’s Park to talk about it. Since the announcement of the discovery of Omicron last week, the uncertainty has prompted a nearly thousand point dip in the Dow Jones, and a new round of travel restrictions, but Moore wants us all to stay cool.
“I want to reassure Ontarians that we are prepared and ready to respond to this, or any other new variant,” Moore said on Monday morning. “The Ontario COVID-19 Genomics Network is continuing to actively monitor for all potential variants circulating in the province, including the Omicron variant, and it is conducting genomic sequencing on 100 per cent of eligible COVID-19 positive samples in Ontario.
“We also have the infrastructure in place to manage outbreaks, including high volume capacity for testing, with 230 assessment centers and community labs in over 500 pharmacies offering testing to those who need it,” Moore added.
The first two cases of the Omicron variant were identified in individuals from the Ottawa area who had recently returned from Nigeria, which is not one of the seven African nations that the Government of Canada barred travel from late last week. Those countries are South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
“I think we’re learning from the epidemiology that this virus has been present on the globe for probably many, many weeks, if not months, and it has spread to multiple locations around the globe as we’re learning every minute of every hour,” Moore explained. “It may be more prudent to broaden the testing of all returning travelers, to ensure that they can have a take home PCR test, and to get that test done and have the results tested for this variant in particular, and the Delta, which is the dominant strain here.”
According to Moore, the two Omicron patients landed in Canada in Montreal before travel on to Ottawa. He added that the Public Health Agency of Canada is currently investigating 375 individuals who have traveled to Canada from the affected areas in Africa over the last two weeks.
“All of our local public health agencies are working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to contact those individuals and get them tested, and if they’re positive, we have good local capacity to respond to them,” Moore said. “If we see widespread presence of Omicron across Ontario, which is not the case at present, then we could review any measures that we need to take at a provincial level.”
In terms of stopping the spread at home, Moore said everyone should be limiting the number of people that they interact with socially, and to keep getting the kids vaccinated since there’s a lot of transmission right now in younger children. Moore reported that nearly 69,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 11, about 6.4 per cent, have gotten their first vaccine shot, which will help keep the number of hospitalizations down.
“We’re doing relatively well. We’re less than the national average, and we’re less than most highly-populated provinces, so I have to thank Ontarians for continuing to come forward to get your first, second or third dose, and to continue the measures that you’re taking within your social networks and in the workplace,” Moore said.
“When we saw Delta take over to be a dominant strain, it was a three to four month transition,” Moore added. “We will have to see if we can limit the rapidity of spread of Omicron as well and attenuate or limit its ability to spread in our communities by best adherence to these public health measures.”
The Government of Ontario announced Sunday that they’re expanding free PCR testing at all provincial testing centres to anyone that’s traveled to or from the seven affected African countries between November 1 and December 6. Family members and household contacts are also eligible for that free testing even if they’re asymptomatic. The Province is also encouraging everyone who’s currently eligible for a booster dose to get their third shot if they haven’t already.