The latest variant, first reported last week, has led the federal government to restrict travel from countries in southern Africa, and the B.C. government to require additional testing for those who have already arrived.
About 900 to 1,000 travellers have arrived in Canada from southern Africa in the past few days. Of those, 204 have arrived in B.C.
“We are doing what we need to do, which is everyone who has returned from African countries in question get a PCR test,” Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters.
“Every traveller who has tested positive has had their sample genome sequenced.”
The World Health Organization said Monday that the heavily mutated Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a “very high” risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some places.
On Monday, Ontario’s top doctor said the two travellers who have been identified as Canada’s first Omicron cases entered the country at the Montreal-Trudeau International Airport, then continued to Ottawa.
That province is looking at four other cases — two more in Ottawa and two in Hamilton — as possible instances of the variant. Meanwhile, Quebec reported its first case on Monday as well.
Scientists are still trying to understand the transmission of the variant and whether vaccines will work to prevent it.
Asked whether B.C. would consider specific restrictions to slow the potential spread of Omicron, Dix said the province has other concerns.
“The main concern continues to be, as we focus on variants of concerns in general, is on activities that will take place during Christmas and New Year’s and (that) everyone stays safe,” he said. “No specific response to the variant concern right now in terms of measures. ”
The province is also not considering a change to its booster shot program. B.C. has already administered more than 400,000 of the shots, and 40 per cent of people over the age of 70 have received it.
“We need to continue to take the actions we have taken. To follow public health orders. To wear a mask in public indoor spaces. To get your vaccine, no matter your age, when it is your turn,” the minister said. “Especially in this time, we need to be cautious.”
– with a file from Craig Lord, Annabelle Olivier and Reuters