Canadian health officials announced on Sunday that the Omicron variant of the Wuhan coronavirus has reached North America, with two cases appearing in Ontario.
Two Ontario health officials, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, said in a joint statement that the two individuals who tested positive for the Omicron variant recently traveled to Nigeria.
“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," the officials said in their joint statement.
According to NBC News, contact tracing is being conducted to determine if others in Nigeria also contracted the variant.
"We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant," the pair said. They noted that Ontario has focused rapid COVID-19 testing on travelers who have been to South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
Canada’s Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, said in a statement that “it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada.”
“I know that this new variant may seem concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our communities,” Duclos added. He noted that border measures for travelers who have been in the southern Africa region have been implemented.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced that the United States will restrict travel to eight African countries due to the Omicron variant. The countries are South Africa, where the variant emerged, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
“This morning I was briefed by my chief medical advisor, Dr. Tony Fauci, and the members of our COVID response team, about the Omicron variant, which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises,” President Biden said in the statement.
“Finally, for the world community: the news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” he continued. “The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.”
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency meeting to discuss the variant. On the organization’s website, Omicron is labeled as a “variant of concern.”
On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that the country will bar entry for all foreign visitors beginning Tuesday due to the variant. Previously, the country implemented requirements for Japanese citizens to quarantine after returning home from certain nations.
“These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety's sake until there is clearer information about the omicron variant,” Kishida reportedly said.