First Omicron cases in North America detected in Canada

Travellers returning to Ontario from Nigeria tested positive for new variant

Passengers check in at the Lufthansa counter at Johannesburg's O R Tambo Airport. AP
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Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has reached North America, with the Canadian province of Ontario confirming two cases of the strain after two people returning from a trip to Nigeria tested positive on Sunday.

On Monday afternoon, the province of Quebec confirmed its first case of the variant bringing the total to three cases.

“I know that this new variant may seem concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and its variants in our communities," said Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada’s new minister of health.

The Canadian government has enacted a series of restrictions in a bid to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.

Doctors and scientists around the globe are scrambling to determine how contagious the variant is and whether it is more likely to lead to serious illness and death than previous iterations of the virus.

Canada has once again tightened border restrictions, banning travellers from southern Africa until January 31, 2022.

Foreign visitors who have travelled to certain countries in southern Africa in the past 14 days will not be allowed to enter the country, while Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be subjected to enhanced testing and quarantine measures.

“Our government continues to take unprecedented and decisive action to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said.

“Today's measures, including new requirements for third-country pre-departure testing for travellers coming to Canada from certain southern African countries, are being put in place to prevent new variants of the Covid-19 virus from being introduced and spread in Canada.”

On Friday, the World Health Organisation declared the B.1.1.529 variant first detected in South Africa — better known as Omicron — to be a “variant of concern”.

The WHO said Omicron poses a “very high” global risk and urged its 194 member countries to ramp up vaccination efforts particularly among “high-priority groups”, such as the elderly and those who are immunocompromised.

Updated: November 30, 2021, 6:09 AM