No Maritime cases yet, but provinces on guard for COVID-19 Omicron variant

Click to play video: 'Maritime provinces watching for Omicron variant'
Maritime provinces watching for Omicron variant
WATCH: Several Canadian provinces have now reported cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. So far, no cases have been reported in the Atlantic region. And health experts says there's still a lot to learn about the new variant of concern. As Callum Smith reports, Maritime provinces are on guard – Dec 1, 2021

Several Canadian provinces have now reported cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

And while no cases have been reported in the Atlantic region, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, says it’s only a matter of time before it’s detected on the East Coast.

Maritime provinces are on guard, and Strang says there’s a lot to learn over the coming weeks.

“There’s far more that we don’t know yet than we do know,” he says. “We’ll get answers to some of the questions about how infectious it is, does it produce more severe illness, how well-protected from the current vaccine we are against Omicron.

“We fully expect we’re going to see this, this variant here in Atlantic Canada, in Nova Scotia,” Strang says. “That’s inevitable.”

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Canada added several African countries to its travel ban Tuesday because of the variant of concern.

On Wednesday, New Brunswick’s health minister, Dorothy Shephard, confirmed eight people are self-isolating in the province because they travelled from countries in southern Africa. Shephard said the province was notified by Canada Border Services.

COVID-19 testing will be required for international travellers coming to Canada, aside from U.S. visitors, along with a quarantine requirement while awaiting test results.

Click to play video: 'What you need to know about the Omicron variant'
What you need to know about the Omicron variant

But Omar Alghabra, the country’s transport minister, warns people “to recognize that travel measures could change at any moment.”

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It’s a reminder to be flexible, and prepared, as much as possible.

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“We’re working really closely with our government partners and the agency partners as we work to figure out how this will be put in place here at our airport and just encourage everyone to check and find out the information they need before they travel,” says Leah Batstone, a Halifax International Airport Authority spokesperson.

While no cases of the new variant have been reported locally, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick labs can detect the new variant, with confirmation needing to come from Winnipeg.

Each new COVID-19 case reported in Nova Scotia is being screened for it, while New Brunswick cases will be if there’s travel history, Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said Monday.

“The good news is that anybody who’s arrived from the infected areas over the last 14 days has already been contacted, either at the federal level or provincial level, or both,” she told Global News. “They have been tested already and they have been told to isolate for the full 14 days.”

But Strang says the mutation highlights the importance of existing public health measures.

The province’s response will adjust as evidence changes, but Strang says “we’re not going to overreact.”

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“We know that the very tight restrictions that we’ve used in the past, we don’t want to use those again,” he says. “We won’t say that we will never have to use them, but we’re at a very different place with the vaccine.

“The vaccine allows us to limit the restrictions we need to have, but we will certainly watch this, watch as the science evolves, watch as the epidemiology across the country evolves,” he says. “We’ll adjust our response as required, but we’re very cognizant of the shutdowns we had in the first few waves; the impacts that they have.

“We would only return to that if absolutely necessary and I think that’s a remote possibility.”

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