Quebec confirms 1st case of omicron COVID-19 variant
Health minister said travellers from certain African countries were asked to take new tests
One case of the new omicron COVID-19 variant has been confirmed in Quebec, the provincial government announced Monday.
Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda, speaking at a news conference, said tests revealed the new strain in a woman who had recently returned from Nigeria.
This comes after two cases of variant, also from Nigeria, were confirmed in Ottawa. Those cases were found to have returned to the country through Montreal's airport.
Arruda would not confirm whether the cases were related.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said the case was discovered after 115 people in the province who had travelled to southern African countries were asked to take a new COVID-19 test and isolate, in accordance with new federal government rules announced Friday.
WATCH | Health Minister Christian Dubé announces first omicron variant case in Quebec:
Government is following variant 'closely'
Dubé said the government is monitoring two things about the new variant: if it's more contagious and if it's resistant to vaccines. He said expert analysis should clarify those points in the next two weeks.
"We don't know what to expect with this new variant, but the federal government is following this closely," he said.
Dubé cautioned that Canada could potentially impose stricter re-entry requirements for those travelling abroad, and asked Quebecers to reconsider any plans to travel this holiday season.
"No matter where you travel, you must be careful," he warned, pointing to how many countries have confirmed cases of the omicron variant.
Cases of the variant have been registered in countries including the Netherlands, Australia, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, China, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Israel.
"The next few weeks will be critical."
Dubé said he would support stronger testing and screening measures for travellers entering the country, at least until more is known about the variant.
Canada has currently barred all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique from entering the country.
Canadian citizens and permanent residents who travel to those regions will be allowed to return home, but will need to get a negative molecular test in a third country before being allowed to enter Canada. They will also undergo additional testing once they land and will have to wait for their results in a designated hotel.
More restrictions possible — but not yet
In Quebec, Dubé did not rule out tightening public health measures, but said the government will wait to know more about the variant before making a decision.
When asked about larger, public events — such as concerts at the Bell Centre — Arruda said those types of gatherings aren't the ones fuelling transmission in the province, because attendees have to be vaccinated.
Instead, he pointed to home gatherings and schools, where people are potentially unvaccinated and in close contact. Dubé underlined that Quebec still has restrictions on private indoor gatherings, which limit the number of people to 10.
Arruda said that if omicron is more contagious, then it will likely replace delta as the predominant variant of COVID-19 in Quebec.