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Canada: What we know so far about the Omicron variant, which has been found in Canada

Ontario finds Canada’s first cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant. Here’s what we know

  Ontario finds Canada’s first cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant. Here’s what we know South African scientists first identified the heavily mutated variant earlier this week after an exponential surge in cases. Canada has detected its first two cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Canada's first two cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant of concern were confirmed Sunday in Ottawa. The variant – which may be more transmissible – was first identified in South Africa, where it coincided with a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, but it's unclear where it first emerged. Here's what we know about it so far:

  What we know so far about the Omicron variant, which has been found in Canada © Provided by The Canadian Press

WHAT IS OMICRON?

Omicron is a new variant of COVID-19 that was designated a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization last week. The U.N. health agency also gave the variant its name, following a classification system based on the Greek alphabet.

South Africa is expected to exceed 10,000 daily contaminations because of the Omicron

 South Africa is expected to exceed 10,000 daily contaminations because of the Omicron © Copyright 2021, the South Africa, where was detected the new Omicron variant, should increase the 10,000 Daily contaminations at COVID-19 by the end of the week, warned on the South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim on the Monday, 29 November.

The WHO said the variant has "a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning," and preliminary evidence suggests it has an increased risk of reinfection.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Friday that some of the mutations detected show a potential for greater transmissibility, and could reduce natural immunity as well as the immunity offered by vaccines.

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WHERE HAS IT BEEN FOUND?

Outside South Africa, Omicron cases have been confirmed in a growing number of countries. Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong are among those that have reported cases.

Spain confirmed its first case Monday, in a traveller who arrived from South Africa.

Portuguese health authorities, meanwhile, have identified 13 cases of Omicron in members of a top soccer club, and are investigating possible local transmission of the variant. That would be the first reported instance of local transmission outside of southern Africa.

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  Omicron: How does it compare with other COVID-19 variants of concern? The Omicron variant, first detected by South Africa, has become the latest and fifth variant of concern designated by the WHO since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A variant of concern has the potential for increased transmissibility, severity of illness or decreased effectiveness of vaccines, treatments and public health measures, according to WHO. Cases of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and now the Omicron variant have been detected in Canada. Here is what we know so far about the Omicron variant and how it compares with the other variant of concern. Omicron The B.1.1.

Dutch health authorities said Tuesday that the Omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa reported it to the World Health Organization last week. They said the variant was detected in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23.

Canada's first two cases, confirmed in Ottawa, are in people who recently returned from Nigeria. Two more cases were confirmed in Ottawa on Monday night, and two more possible cases are being investigated in the Hamilton region. Ontario's top doctor said Monday it would not be surprising to see more cases, adding the province is performing genome sequencing on all eligible positive COVID-19 tests in order to help detect the variant.

Public health units in Ontario are also offering tests to 375 people who recently returned from countries Canada considers at high risk for the variant.

Meanwhile, Quebec confirmed its first Omicron case on Monday.

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  COVID live updates: Opposition blasts Legault for mixed messages on Christmas gatherings Updated throughout the day on Tuesday, Nov. 30. Questions/comments: [email protected] Top updates Live: Federal officials provide update on Canada’s response to Omicron variant Video: Under fire from opposition, Legault says his government’s cooperating with coroner’s CHSLD inquiry BioNTech CEO says vaccine likely to protect against severe COVID from Omicron FAQ: What we know so far about the Omicron variant ‘We will listen to public health’ on Christmas gatherings, Legault says People 60+ should avoid international travel due to Omicron threat, WHO says PQ, Liberals accuse Legault government of obstructing CHSLD inquiry Opposition blasts Legault for mixed message

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WHAT IS CANADA DOING?

Canada announced last week it is no longer allowing visitors from southern Africa in an effort to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

The ban applies to foreign nationals who have been in seven listed countries over the past 14 days, including South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini. Nigeria – where several confirmed Canadian cases had been – is not on the list.

Travellers who transited through the listed countries and are already in Canada must quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.

Ottawa has also issued an advisory discouraging non-essential travel to South Africa and nearby countries. The federal government has said it will impose additional border restrictions if needed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada is watching the Omicron situation very closely. "There may be more we need to do and we'll be looking at it very carefully," he said.

Opposition parties and some provincial leaders are pressing Ottawa to enact strict border measures to keep Omicron outside of the country. Ontario's top doctor said the province wants testing for all returning travellers, regardless of where they came from.

Omicron variant: Canada expands travel ban, seeks booster guidance

  Omicron variant: Canada expands travel ban, seeks booster guidance Canada is restricting travel from three more African countries and seeking guidance on COVID-19 boosters amid the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Canada is restricting travel from three more African countries and seeking guidance on COVID-19 boosters amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.

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WHAT ARE OTHER COUNTRIES DOING?

Several other countries have also enacted travel bans focused on southern Africa, as well as stronger screening measures.

The U.S. has banned travel from South Africa and several other countries in the region starting Monday. Others, including New Zealand, Israel and the European Union, have also restricted or banned travel from the region.

Japan announced Monday it is suspending entry of all foreign visitors.

Travellers arriving from Canada and several other countries will need to show a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for 10 days if they go to Switzerland – new measures slated to take effect Wednesday in response to Omicron cases in those countries. The Swiss government had already imposed such requirements on travellers from Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, and banned all flights from southern Africa.

The World Health Organization, however, has urged countries to avoid using travel restrictions, saying they "place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods."

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HOW EFFECTIVE ARE COVID-19 VACCINES AGAINST OMICRON

That isn't yet clear, but vaccine manufacturers are looking into it.

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- with files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was published Nov. 30, 2021.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Why exempt U.S. from new travel restrictions? Feds point to low Omicron transmission .
According to the new travel rules, anyone coming into Canada from a country other than the U.S. will have to be tested for COVID on arrival, then isolate and await their results. "Those measures are temporary for us to learn more about this variant, to learn more about its severity, and we will continually adjust based on the advice and the information that we get," Alghabra said, speaking during an interview with The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson. "There are very little reports of community transmission (of Omicron) in the United States. If that changes, we will change our measures.

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