Manitoba has detected its first case of the omicron variant COVID-19, which has sparked widespread global concern, disrupted global travel and triggered new quarantine rules in Canada.
The province is refusing to provide details on the case, beyond reporting, it involves a person who recently returned to Manitoba from a southern African country and who is currently in isolation and has mild symptoms.
“Aggressive” contact tracing is underway, but a government spokesperson declined to say when the infected person returned, whether they still complied with quarantine requirements, the health region in which they live or the. level of sequencing which revealed the presence of the B virus. Variant 1.1.529, first reported just over a week ago in South Africa.
The individual was in one of the many countries in the African region now subject to international travel bans.
There is some evidence that the variant is more readily transmissible than the delta strain, which is currently dominant in Manitoba. But researchers don’t yet know if omicron is more dangerous, if it could cause more severe symptoms, or how effective vaccines are against it.
And those unknowns mean Manitoba should do what it can to improve or maintain access to third doses, rapid tests and things like effective ventilation and filtration in schools, the epidemiologist said. from the University of Manitoba, Souradet Shaw.
“I think we just need to make sure that we are doing things better that we already do, or at least that we are doing them well. Are we actively giving people booster shots rather than passively asking people to do it? For example, do we have enough manpower to try to vaccinate the most vulnerable populations? ” said Shaw, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Program Science and Global Public Health.
“It’s early enough to see where this is going to go, but we know from previous experiences with the coronavirus that unfortunately if omicron takes off here we know it’s going to hit people of color, we know it’s going to hit the poor. , we know that it will strike the vulnerable and if it takes off, it will probably take off in families.
Dr Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist in Winnipeg, said he was concerned that preliminary reports suggesting omicron infections are not as severe as other strains may cause some people to let their guard down, especially with increasing the number of holiday gatherings.
“There are a lot of unknowns. Knowledge evolves very quickly, so we have to anticipate that it will change quickly, but we should not indulge ourselves in thinking that this disease is going to be milder than the previous variants. until there is strong evidence, he said.
“In fact, I’m very worried that people are tired, they’re fed up with this pandemic – that’s understandable – and they’re going to hang on to any message that says it’s not that bad…. We don’t know and it would be dangerous to make that assumption. ”
However, Manitobans should not panic, said Lagacé-Wiens.
“We must remain vigilant,” he said. “We need more information. We need to keep doing what we’re doing – testing, tracing, isolating, wearing your masks when you’re indoors, immunizing.”
“We must remain vigilant… We need more information. We have to keep doing what we are doing. ” – Dr Philippe Lagacé – Wiens
Omicron has been found elsewhere in Canada; Alberta has reported 11 cases, 10 of which have been identified in returning travelers. The other was a family contact of a traveler.
Nazeem Muhajarine, professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said that although omicron has been linked to a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in South Africa, it is too early to predict how it will spread in Canada, which has much higher vaccination rates.
What is clear is that the uncertainty could lead to complications for people planning to vacation abroad now, after Canada and a host of other countries tightened border measures in response to the spread of the variant, Muhajarine said, warning international travelers at risk of tangling. in testing and quarantine requirements.
– With files from The Canadian Press