Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says the province has the infrastructure in place to manage any potential outbreak of a newly discovered COVID-19 variant of concern.
At a news conference on Monday, Dr. Kieran Moore said that two people in Ontario who tested positive for the new variant called omicron remain in isolation, and the situation is being monitored very closely by both the Public Health Agency of Canada and Ottawa Public Health.
“We are investigating other cases, so I would not be surprised if we find more in Ontario because we’ve got a very robust surveillance system,” Moore said.
The new variant was first detected in South Africa, and has been linked to a spike in cases there.
According to Moore, the Public Health Agency of Canada has said there are 375 people who returned to Ontario in the last two weeks from those seven countries in southern Africa.
He said local public health units are working to contact them and get them tested.
“As you realize, this is a rapidly changing environment. Lots of questions yet about this new strain that we have to have answers for,” Moore said.
“We need to understand if this is a virulent infection, if it makes people significantly sick or leads them to hospitalization. We really don’t have that information yet.”
On Sunday, the province confirmed two cases of the new variant in Ottawa, both of which were reported in people who had recently traveled to the province from Nigeria.
Moore said Ontario is pushing for enhanced testing for people returning from abroad.
“We really do need enhanced testing of returning travellers,” he said.
“We’re pushing that from a government of Ontario perspective and have testing capacity in Ontario if the federal government mandates enhanced testing.”
The federal government on Friday barred visitors from seven southern African countries in an effort to prevent the variant from crossing into Canada, but Nigeria was not among them.
The province has called on Ottawa to implement point-of-arrival COVID-19 testing for everyone entering Canada regardless of where they came from, instead of just requiring them to get tested before leaving for Canada.
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