Ontario is investigating two more suspected cases of COVID-19’s Omicron variant in Ottawa and another two in Hamilton as it prepares an “enhanced strategy” to fight the virus, says chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore.
The four potential cases are in addition to two identified in people who travelled from Nigeria to Montreal, were tested there, and continued on to Ottawa, Moore told a news conference Monday.
There are 375 people who need to be tested for COVID-19 after travelling to Ontario in the last two weeks from seven southern African countries named in travel restrictions by the federal government on Friday. Nigeria, however, was not on that list.
“If we see widespread presence of Omicron across Ontario, which is not the case at present, then we could review any measures we need to take at the provincial level,” said Moore, who urged people to remain “calm and science-driven” until more is known about the strain and the effectiveness of vaccines against it.
“I don’t foresee having to take any steps back at present,” he added, referring to public health restrictions such as the capacity limits that were eased earlier this fall.
“We need to understand if this is a virulent infection … and makes people really sick.”
The World Health Organization said over the weekend that answers to those questions could take a couple of weeks.
Moore said, however, there could be pressure once again for the federal government to limit the number of airports in Canada where international flights land and more scrutiny on plans to lift the requirement for Canadians to get tested for COVID-19 if they visit the United States or for less than 72 hours.
That testing requirement is due to end on Tuesday.
“We’ll have to be reviewing this with our federal partners,” Moore said.
In the legislature’s daily question period, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the federal government may have to add other countries to the list of those for which travel to Canada has been suspended. It now includes South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia.
“We are continuing to ask the federal government to make sure everyone is tested regardless of where they come from,” Elliott said.
Moore encouraged Ontarians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven’t had a first or second jab, and for those who are eligible to get booster shots. Boosters are now available to people with certain immune-compromised conditions and to anyone over 70, or anyone who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, providing their last shot was at least 168 days ago.
More information about booster shot eligibility could come within days in the wake of the Omicron variant and rising cases of the dominant Delta variant.
“We will be reviewing options and providing them to government in the next few days and I would anticipate an announcement by the end of this week on an enhanced strategy to best protect Ontarians,” said Moore.
Since children aged five to 11 became eligible for shots of the Pfizer vaccine last week, almost 68,000 have been given first doses — a rate of 6.4 per cent. About one million children in that age group are eligible.
Moore stressed Ontario has plenty of hospital capacity to deal with COVID-19 cases requiring a higher level of medical care.
The Novavax vaccine is expected to be approved for use in Canada in the coming weeks, and is a different formulation that could appeal to people who are reluctant to take the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines, Moore said.
He noted that new treatments such as COVID-19 antivirals are also in the pipeline and could ease any strain on the health-care system.
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