Canada has confirmed the detection of two cases of Omicron, a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus, health officials said on Sunday.
The two cases have been traced to two people who travelled to Nigeria — an African country not yet targeted for travel bans by the US, UK and European nations.
"Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation," a statement by the Ontario government said.
This comes two days after Canada rushed to seal its borders for foreign travellers from seven Southern African nations in an attempt to prevent the spread of the newly identified . These seven nations are South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia.
The ban of entry of travellers into Canada will be in place till 31 January 2022 as nations grapple to understand and monitor the Omicron variant’s virulence and transmissibility.
Labelled as a “Variant of Concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Omicron has sent health experts, scientists and governments scrambling to figure out the threat posed by Omicron, and whether it will surpass that of its dominant predecessor Delta, which was highly transmissible and responsible for deadly waves in many parts of the world.
However, the WHO has said that it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, or if it can cause more severe disease.
“In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021,” the WHO said in its statement confirming the detection of the variant.
Several nations have resorted to new travel restrictions fearing the spread of Omicron and the risk of a new blow to limping economies battered in the last two years of the global pandemic.
“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world’s population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged,” said Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the international alliance dedicated to improving access to all vaccines.
Cases of the Omicron variant have now been detected in 13 nations — Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Canada and South Africa.