Two cases of the quickly-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus have been reported in Canada, officials confirmed Sunday.
Both cases were reported in the province of Ontario with individuals who had recently traveled to Africa.
“Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation,”officials said in a statement.
The potentially more infectious variant of the virus is now right across the northern border from the United States, where no cases have yet been confirmed. White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has suggested that the variant may already be spreading domestically.
Canada implemented new travel restrictions from several African countries on Friday, notably not including Nigeria where officials said the two omicron-infected patients had traveled from.
A gas station attendant stands next to a newspaper headline in South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first identified. AP / Denis Farrell
Foreign nationals who have traveled to South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia within the previous 14 days will not be permitted into Canada. The measure is in effect until Jan. 31, 2022.
Canadian citizens who had traveled to the countries will be “subject to enhanced testing, screening and quarantine measures,” before they are readmitted into the country.
“The Government of Canada advises Canadians to avoid travelling to countries in the Southern African region and will continue to monitor the situation to inform current or future actions,” officials said, warning that travelers leaving Canada could be forced to remain outside of the country longer than expected as the international travel situation could change at a moment’s notice.
Canada’s Public Health Agency said Sunday it has a monitoring program in place to identify new variants of the virus, such as omicron. “As the monitoring continues, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada and other countries.”
The Omicron variant has already also been detected in Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. Israel has sealed its borders to all travelers for 14 days as an extreme measure of caution against the new variant, effective on Sunday night.
The Omicron variant has been detected around the globe, including Australia. Authorities said that two passengers traveling from South Africa to Sydney have tested positive for the variant. AP / Mark Baker
The US State Department on Saturday warned Americans against traveling to South Africa and seven of its neighbors –also not including Nigeria — amidst growing fears of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant. Travel to the region will halt on Monday.
The symptoms of the omicron variant appear to be milder than others such as the delta variant, however Fauci on Sunday warned that the new Omicron variant is “troublesome” because it contains possibly dozens of mutations that could evade immunity from past infections and vaccines.
Fauci and National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins have urged Americans to get the vaccine as it may provide the best defense against the new variant.