By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has made its way to Ottawa, and the uncertainty around the new strain is causing fear for some.
On Nov. 28, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed that Canada’s first two cases of the variant, which was first reported in South Africa, had been reported in Ottawa. Both infected persons travelled from Nigeria to Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal, and then to Ottawa.
Since then, another two suspectedOmicron variant cases of the virus have been reported in Ottawa, and another two in Guelph.
Ottawa Public Health says out of an abundance of caution, anyone who travelled to eight different South African Countries in the past 14 days should self isolate and get tested. The same guidelines apply to anyone else who may live in the household, and to anyone who is fully vaccinated and showing no symptoms. The countries of concern include: Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia.
According to the World Health Organization, research on the Omicron variant is still under way and could take several weeks to come up with conclusive answers.
“It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta,” they said on their website. “The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.”
When it comes to the severity of the infection, the World Health Organization says “preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron. There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.”
Many of the initial reported infections were among university students—younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease, added WHO.
The Omicron variant does however have more than 30 mutations on the spike protein — the part of the virus that binds to a human cell, infecting it. That is cause for concern that this variant could be more transmissible and have more mechanisms to evade immunity.
The news comes at a time COVID-19 cases in the capital are rising. Ottawa currently has 347 active COVID-19 cases, and 11 people are in hospital, including one individual under the age of 10. The positivity rate in the city is 1.7 per cent.
On Nov. 29, Ontario reported 788 new COVID-19 infections, 439 of which were in unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated individuals.
A day before on Nov, 28, the province reported 964 new infections of the virus and one new death. Numbers this high have not been seen since the large influx of daily infections in the spring. In Ottawa, 61 new cases were reported on that same day.
On Sunday, Ottawa public Health sent out a memo looking to contact a private ride-share driver, who drove someone from Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal to Barrhaven. The passenger later tested positive for COVID-19, and is believed to have been contagious during the roughly two hour-long trip.
Some have questioned if the passenger was one of the two initial Ottawa residents who have tested positive for the Omicron variant. Ottawa Public Health was asked if the two incidents are connected, however refused to disclose additional information.
When the health unit released a statement looking for the rideshare driver on Sunday, it only mentioned one passenger, whereas two passengers tested positive for the variant of concern.