2 potential omicron variant COVID-19 cases in Hamilton under investigation

Ontario's chief medical officer of health says the province is investigating two potential cases of a new COVID-19 variant in Hamilton.

Expert says public shouldn't panic and should continue to follow rules and get vaccinated

Ontario chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore said two omicron cases under investigation are in the Hamilton area. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's chief medical officer of health says the province is investigating two potential cases of a new COVID-19 variant in Hamilton.

Dr. Kieran Moore said, during a Monday news conference, the two omicron cases are awaiting whole genome sequencing and Hamilton public health said the results should be ready in "the coming days."

Moore said Hamilton's public health unit is "doing active case and tracing management."

Michelle Baird, Hamilton's COVID-19 operations chief, said the two Hamilton residents recently returned from travelling to South Africa.

Omicron, the new variant, was detected in South Africa and was linked to a spike in cases there but didn't necessarily originate in the region.

Asked about the residents' symptoms, Baird said there was "nothing out of the ordinary" and said both people are isolating, but she wouldn't say when the cases were detected and how many close contacts are isolating, citing privacy concerns.

This comes as Canada has confirmed two cases in Ottawa and is investigating two more potential cases in the capital city. The country also barred all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique in the last 14 days from entering Canada.

Hamilton public health said anyone who was in those countries within 14 days before arriving in Hamilton should self-isolate from people in their household and get a COVID-19 test. The people they live with should also self-isolate and get tested.

"To date, these are the only two COVID-19 cases that we are aware of in Hamilton that had travelled to any of the indicated areas," Baird said.

Baird added the delta variant make up 99 per cent of local cases, so there isn't enough information about omicron to warrant changing public health measures.

More cases expected to pop up in Ontario

Moore said he "would not be surprised if we find more in Ontario" and added there are still many unanswered questions about the variant.

"We need to understand if this is a virulent infection, if it makes people significantly sick or leads them to hospitalization. We really don't have that information yet," he said.

The province said in a media release about the variant the best defence is "stopping it at our border" and said Ontario is prepared and ready to respond" to the omicron variant.

Ontario's seven-day average rose to 784, its highest point since June 6.

Expert says public shouldn't panic

Lori Burrows, a McMaster University biochemistry professor and Degroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research's interim director, said the public shouldn't panic because scientists are still determining how dangerous omicron is and how much protection current vaccines can offer.

"People shouldn't panic until there is time for those tests to be done," she said.

That said, Burrows said it looks like the variant is better at infecting people compared to the delta variant or the original COVID-19 variant.

"This omicron variant is replacing the delta variant, which already replaced the alpha variant, which is the previous one," she said.

"When one virus or variant replaces another, it implies it is better at infecting humans and so it becomes the dominant strain."

Burrows said it's important for people to continue to follow public health measure in place and get vaccinated. She also said it's important Canada donates vaccines to countries that don't have the same access to them.

Hamilton COVID-19 trends still on lower end

Baird said the St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton testing centre at Mohawk College is moving to 1565 Upper James Street.

The clinic at Mohawk will close on Wednesday, Dec. 15 and will reopen at the new location two days later.

She also said the city's numbers are "holding steady" and haven't seen the same uptick as the rest of the province.

"We're very much in a hold pattern .. we're in a fairly good place and hopefully we stay there," said Baird.

Hamilton's seven-day average of new cases is at 21, according to public health data.

Comparatively, Wave 1's peak was 159, Wave 2's was 200 and Wave 3's was 94.

There are 158 active cases in the city and the city has eight active outbreaks.

Fewer than one person per day is going to a local hospital with COVID-19, Baird added.

Data shows 83.3 per cent of people who can get vaccinated are fully vaccinated.

There have been 419 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.


Bobby Hristova is a reporter for CBC News in Hamilton. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.