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B.C. confirms 1st case of Omicron COVID-19 variant

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One case of the concerning Omicron COVID-19 variant has been confirmed in British Columbia, health officials announced Tuesday.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the infected individual lives in the Fraser Health region, which spans from Burnaby to Boston Bar, and recently returned from Nigeria.

That individual is isolating while public health follows up with all of their close contacts.

So far, 204 people across the province have been identified as having recently travelled to Omicron-affected countries. Each one has been contacted over recent days, sent for PCR testing and told to isolate.

Henry said B.C.'s first Omicron case was identified thanks to the province's "robust" program of whole genome sequencing, which is performed on every COVID-19 infection associated with a recent traveller as well as a proportion of all new cases.

"We can be confident that we're not seeing widespread transmission of this variant in B.C. yet," Henry added.

Omicron has sent countries around the world scrambling to impose new travel restrictions and other measures to limit the spread as researcher work to determine how its numerous mutations impact transmissibility, severity of illness, and possible vaccine resistance.

"There is still a lot we do not yet know about the Omicron variant and it will take some weeks for us to get sufficient data for us to understand," Henry said.

The provincial health officer noted there is already some suggestion the mutations make Omicron more transmissible, but whether it will outperform the Delta variants AY.25, AY.27 and AY.4.2 remains unclear.

A handful of Omicron cases have been detected in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta in recent days, and the country has already banned entry to foreign national who have recently travelled to Nigeria, Malawi, Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Canadians returning from an affected country will be required to quarantine for two weeks.

The federal government has also imposed new testing requirements on all arriving air travellers coming from anywhere except the U.S., including those who are fully vaccinated.

The variant has been linked to a rapid rise in cases in South Africa, where vaccination rates are comparably low.

"This new variant of concern reminds us that we are in a global storm, and that it is not equal everywhere around the world," Henry said, adding that "equal access to vaccination is something that's going to be important for us to get through this."

The emergence of the new variant has added urgency to B.C. health officials' immunization campaign, which saw the first doses administered to children between the ages of five and 11 on Monday.

"While vaccination doesn't prevent 100 per cent of infections, we have seen how important it is in protecting people from more severe illness, particularly with the Delta variant," Henry said.

Unvaccinated children under the age of 12 have made up about 20 per cent of B.C.'s recent COVID-19 cases, despite representing approximately 10 per cent of the population.

There are about 350,000 B.C. children between the ages of five and 11. More than 108,000 were registered for vaccination by Monday afternoon, according to the Ministry of Health.

 

 

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