Toronto: Canada logged another case of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant and was investigating several other potential infections on Monday as hundreds of people who recently travelled back from countries deemed high-risk for the new strain were encouraged to get tested.
Quebec confirmed its first Omicron case and Ontario said it was investigating four possible cases after the country’s first two infections were recorded in Ottawa over the weekend. Both provinces said they wouldn’t reimpose widespread public health restrictions until more is known about the new variant of concern.
Ontario’s top doctor warned that additional infections would likely be detected and the province said it was considering speeding up COVID-19 vaccine boosters.
“I would not be surprised if we find more in Ontario, because we’ve got a very robust surveillance system,” Dr. Kieran Moore said, noting that Ontario is performing genome sequencing on all eligible positive COVID-19 tests.
Quebec’s public health director Horacio Arruda said Monday that the Omicron case in his province was in a person who recently travelled from Nigeria. He didn’t say whether that case was connected to the two in Ottawa announced Sunday. Those two people had also been in Nigeria, Moore said, and were tested in Montreal.
Two potential Omicron cases were under investigation in the Hamilton area and two others were being probed in Ottawa, Moore said.
Public health officials in Hamilton said the potential cases in that region were flagged for further genome sequencing because of the residents’ recent travel to South Africa, but did not provide more information about when they travelled or were tested.
The new variant, which may be more transmissible, has prompted several countries including Canada to introduce travel restrictions. Those have focused on countries in southern Africa where the variant is known to be circulating, though cases have since been found across the globe.
Ontario public health units are reaching out to 375 people who have returned from countries deemed by the federal government to be high-risk for the variant and are offering them testing, Moore said.
Quebec’s health minister said 115 recent travellers, most returning from southern Africa, have been asked to take a PCR test and isolate.
People who recently arrived in Canada from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are eligible for COVID-19 tests and are required to quarantine. Canada has also closed its borders to visitors from those countries.
Ontario wants to test all returning travellers, not just those from the designated countries, and Moore said the province is working with Ottawa on the idea after Premier Doug Ford called for it on Friday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that testing for all travellers is “one of the most important things that we need to do to protect Ontarians” from the variant.
She said the province is also looking at widening eligibility for third doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with more details to come later this week. Third doses are currently on offer to people over 70, long-term care residents, some health-care workers and people with specific health conditions, among others.

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter
The Canadian Press