First case of omicron COVID-19 variant confirmed in Alberta, Hinshaw says
Traveller was returning from Nigeria and the Netherlands
Alberta's first case of the omicron variant has been confirmed in a traveller who returned to the province from Nigeria and the Netherlands.
"I'm reporting we have now one confirmed case of the omicron variant in Alberta," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told a news conference Tuesday.
"This case has been confirmed in a returning traveller from Nigeria and the Netherlands.
"The individual tested positive while asymptomatic and I can confirm this individual has not left quarantine since their arrival from international travel."
Hinshaw said household members have been notified and measures are in place to prevent onward transmission, she said.
"I don't want Albertans to be alarmed. As I mentioned [Monday], we anticipated the arrival of this variant in the province eventually based on what we've seen from previous strains of COVID-19," she said.
"We were well-prepared for this eventuality."
Alberta had already ramped up tracing and testing of COVID-19 cases identified in all returning international travellers in a bid to stay ahead of the variant in the province.
She said the individual, who had been travelling alone, returned to Alberta about one week ago and was tested for COVID-19 on arrival.
Hinshaw said there is typically a time lag between an initial positive test and follow-up testing for variants.
Omicron, a strain that may be more infectious than previous versions of the coronavirus, was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week.
The Canadian government has already banned travellers from a number of southern African countries in a bid to contain the spread.
Alberta is monitoring 156 travellers who returned from these banned countries in the last two weeks. The travellers were contacted over the weekend, advised of testing and isolation rules and offered testing kits.
Not time to lift all gathering restrictions, Hinshaw says
The province's current health restrictions are not being beefed up as a result of the single case of omicron — but it also isn't the right time for gathering restrictions to be loosened, Hinshaw said Tuesday.
Currently, private indoor social gatherings are limited to two households up to a maximum of 10 vaccine-eligible, vaccinated people, with no restrictions on children under age 12.
On Monday, Premier Jason Kenney said the province may look at easing gathering restrictions as the Christmas holidays approach, noting the steady decline in intensive-care admissions.
"So if that continues, and if we don't see alarming evidence about severe outcomes from omicron, we will consider some kind of potential modest relaxation of gatherings, primarily because we are concerned about compliance," Kenney said.
"We want to make sure that the rules that are in place are rules that the majority of people will follow. So we're balancing all of these things out right now — we haven't made any decisions — but as long as ICU pressure continues to abate, we may be in a position to consider something as we move closer to the holidays."
When asked about Kenney's remarks, Hinshaw said officials are continually assessing the impact of restrictions on public health, mental health and social isolation.
The current protocols have been working in terms of curbing the spread of the virus, she said.
"I don't think it's the right time to completely lift all of our indoor social gathering restrictions," she said.
"So whether or not there's an easing, I don't think this is the time to turn them all off."
The number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Alberta has been declining.
Hinshaw said Tuesday that 238 new cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours.
The new cases were detected after 5,400 tests and the positivity rate was 4.5 per cent, she said.
Across the province there are 4,545 active cases of COVID-19. Here's how they break down by region:
- Calgary zone: 1,761
- Edmonton zone: 1,107
- North zone: 753
- Central zone: 591
- South zone: 330
- Unknown: 3
As of Tuesday, there were 434 people in Alberta hospitals with the disease, including 81 in intensive care, Hinshaw said.
Six new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the previous 24 hours, she said.
A total of 3,248 Albertans have died since the pandemic began.