Health officials in Canada announced Sunday that two cases of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been identified in the capital Ottawa.
A statement by Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Kieran Moore said the cases were reported in two people who had recently traveled to Nigeria.
While the patients were taken into isolation, case and contact studies by Ottawa Public Health were continuing, the statement said.
Calling on the federal government to take the necessary steps to further protect against the spread of the new variant, the officials said "the best defense against the Omicron variant is stopping it at our border."
They assured that the state of Ontario was "prepared and ready to respond to this new variant" and said Ontario had already expanded eligibility for provincially-funded COVID-19 PCR testing at all testing centers to individuals who have been to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe since Nov. 1 in order to rapidly identify, trace and isolate COVID-19 and its variants.
"We will continue to monitor trends in key public health and health system indicators, monitor for and learn about this new variant, and we will act quickly if necessary," the statement added.
South African scientists announced last week that they had discovered the Omicron variant, which has several mutations that may carry the risk of reinfection. The same variant was also detected in neighboring Botswana as well as Hong Kong and was first spotted on Nov. 12-22 before being announced Thursday.
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the strain a "variant of concern," naming it Omicron.
Several countries around the world have now banned flights from over half a dozen southern African nations including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini over fears of the new variant.