Dr. Vera Etches, the local medical officer of health, told reporters Monday after an Ottawa Board of Health meeting that four people in the city have tested positive for the Omicron variant and are self-isolating after returning from recent trips to Nigeria. There’s currently no evidence of local transmission, she said.
The Omicron variant has provoked a swath of global travel restrictions from the southern African region where it was first detected, but scientists remain uncertain how much more transmissible or resistant to vaccination the heavily mutated strain might be compared to previous variants.
Etches said Monday that she doesn’t see the need for additional restrictions on gatherings or buffed up capacity limits in the wake of Omicron’s arrival.
“At this point I don’t see the need for additional public health measures in Ottawa,” she said.
While she acknowledged that Ottawa could see a jump in cases in the weeks to come as a result of the variant, Etches said it’s still the same virus residents have been successfully managing and living with for much of the past year and a half.
“What’s really brought COVID under control each time is people decrease the number of close contacts they have,” she said. “We’ve managed Delta through this fall where many countries have struggled.”
Mayor Jim Watson also said in a comment through his press secretary on Monday that it’s too soon to tell whether restrictions are warranted, but said he’d follow Etches’ and Ottawa Public Health’s lead.
“We will always follow the advice of our medical experts and assess the need for further restrictions as more information becomes available. At this time, it’s still too early to weigh in if any further restrictions are needed,” he said.
The Omicron variant arrives in Ottawa as the season of colder weather and holiday gatherings approaches.
Asked whether residents should change their behaviour over the holidays as a result of Omicron, Etches said the situation isn’t fundamentally different from what it was before the new uncertainty.
“I feel like my message is actually the same as it was last week before we knew about Omicron,” she said.
Variant of concern or not, residents should always do a risk assessment of their activities over the holidays. Getting vaccinated, staying home when sick, choosing lower risk activities and doing them with masks, distancing and in well-ventilated spaces is always the recipe for success in the pandemic, she said.
“It isn’t quite a normal holiday season yet, we are still in a pandemic,” she said, before noting that social gatherings are still “an important part of our life.”
Meanwhile on Tuesday, OPH reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 as the number of active cases fell to 321.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in Ottawa also dipped slightly to 10, with one patient still in the intensive care unit. There is no longer a COVID-19 patient under the age of 10 in the hospital as was indicated in Monday’s report.