The first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Alberta.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw disclosed Alberta’s first Omicron case during Tuesday afternoon’s COVID-19 update.
In response to the variant, Canada has imposed a travel ban on several countries within southern Africa including South Africa, Estwatini, Leostho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia.
According to Hinshaw, in concerns to the first confirmed case, the infected individual has not left quarantine and both they and their family have been informed of the positive test.
“My understanding is that arrival was about a week ago and that the initial test was taken on arrival,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “And then of course, as I mentioned, there is a time lag between when the initial positive is identified and then when the follow-up testing can be done. so again, it was approximately one week ago that the test was taken.”
Dr. Hinshaw failed to disclose where the case of Omicron is in Alberta.
“We’re not releasing location because again, this individual has been under strict quarantine and so, therefore, the location where they live is something that could potentially be identifiable, and there’s no increased local risk in that area,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “So we are not disclosing the information to the public about this identified case, without jeopardizing confidentiality. And so the information about the location is not something that we’re able to share with respect to the travel circumstances. It’s my understanding this individual traveled alone, and that again all measures are being taken to limit any potential for onward transmission.”
Dr. Hinshaw says, “It’s her understanding that the risk assessment is really based on the fact that this particular virus has a higher number of mutations in significant locations of the virus than we’ve seen prior.”
“There’s that question about what that might mean for vaccine protection again, how it might interact with people who’ve previously been infected with a different variant. So there are a lot of questions. I personally think that one of the main reasons why something a new virus it has a lot of mutations, those early indications are that it may be more transmissible than delta,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “Again, there are lots of questions about that, but it’s a possibility. Anything that can spread more widely is clearly a concern, particularly in countries where vaccine coverage is low. And while we need to watch very closely to determine whether or not this virus behaves differently against vaccines, certainly there are many, many countries around the world where they have not had either the supply or the ability to expand coverage and so globally, as long as there are countries where the virus could transmit widely if it enters those countries, we are all at risk.”
Dr. Hinshaw says, “Part of the risk is about some of those unknowns and until we know more about the virus as we are learning about it.”
“I think it’s appropriate to have that high level of caution,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “But the reason I want to reassure Albertans in particular, I do believe that based on everything we’ve seen prior, the vaccines are likely to provide still some protection against severe outcomes. And I believe we have a very good infrastructure for being able to detect this in its early days and slow its spread. We know that there are oral antivirals being developed. So medications that can help mitigate the risk of severe outcomes. We have the ability to offer vaccines to younger groups right now. There are lots of reasons to be hopeful. And so I think it’s important that we’re cautious but that we also not see this as a reset to ground zero.”
Just recently, Premier Kenney said that his government was considering relaxing indoor gathering restrictions for the holidays for Albertans.
“I think it depends on the exact way that restrictions might be eased as well as whether or not there are additional protective measures that we can put in place to mitigate any increased risk of transmission,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “We know that the public health restrictions that are currently in place have impacts and we know that social isolation is a significant problem. So as we look at all of our current measures, as we look at whether or not there are additional protective layers that we might be able to bring in over the coming weeks. I think that it’s that balance that will determine what the right next step would be. And those are the discussions that are underway at this time.”
As this is a developing story Lakeland Connect will bring you more information when available.