COVID-19: Ontario's top public-health doctor to hold press conference Monday morning on Omicron

The Canadian Press, Staff Reporter 8 minute read November 30, 2021

Ontario reported 788 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday as the province’s top doctor warned of the possibility of more cases of the Omicron variant in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, Ottawa Public Health reported 26 new cases on Monday and no additional deaths. Currently, there are 347 active COVID cases in the city, with 11 people in Ottawa hospitals due to the virus. One person in the ICU in the city because of COVID.

In Ottawa, 85 per cent of the population five and older has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 81 per cent are fully vaccinated. Including the entire city population, 77 per cent are fully vaccinated and 80 per cent have received one dose.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa Public Health’s medical officer of health, said Monday two more local cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant have been confirmed, bringing the total number to four. Etches said the cases aren’t related to each other.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters Monday another two cases are under investigation in Hamilton.

The two first cases in Canada were identified in Ottawa over the weekend in people who had recently travelled from Nigeria.

Omicron, declared a COVID-19 variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Friday, has prompted a raft of border closures across the globe, with Canada now barring visitors from seven southern African countries in an effort to stem the variant’s spread into Canada. Nigeria, however, was not among those countries.

On Sunday, Ottawa Public Health advised anyone who had been to Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini or Namibia within 14 days before arriving in Ottawa to immediately isolate, including from other family members, and to get tested, along with members of their households.

Moore said at a media conference Monday morning that it’s likely more cases of COVID-19 caused by Omicron will be detected.

“I would not be surprised if we find more in Ontario, because we’ve got a very robust surveillance system,” Moore said. Ontario is performing genome sequencing on all positive COVID-19 tests, which Moore said will help detect variant cases.

The new variant, which may be more transmissible, has prompted several countries, including Canada to introduce travel restrictions. Travel bans have focused on countries in southern Africa where community spread of the virus is known, though cases have since been found across the globe.

Moore said the first two variant cases in Canada, in two Ottawa people who had recently been in Nigeria, were first tested for the virus in Montreal when they arrived in Canada.

Public health units are also reaching out to 375 people who have returned from countries deemed by the federal government to be high risk for the variant and are offering them testing.

People who recently arrived in Canada from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are eligible for COVID-19 tests and are also required to quarantine. The federal government has also closed its borders to visitors from those countries.

Moore said the province wants testing to be offered to all returning travellers, not just those from the seven designated countries in southern Africa, and said Ontario is working with Ottawa on that idea.

He also said the province is looking at its strategy for third COVID-19 vaccine doses and other measures to better protect people, though he noted it’s not yet clear how infectious the new variant is or if the strain will make people sicker and how effective vaccines are against it.

After slowly rolling back restrictions based on high vaccination rates and proof of immunization requirements in some settings, the province has maintained that it will only reintroduce public health measures at a local level.

Some public health units have already done so in light of rising case rates, with some in northern and southwestern Ontario tightening capacity limits in some settings, among other moves.

Moore said Monday that the province will stick with that approach, but might reconsider it if the Omicron variant is found to be widespread, though that wasn’t the case as of Monday.

Nearly all cases in Ontario at the moment are the highly contagious Delta variant. Moore said the focus should be on fighting that strain, which vaccines are known to be effective against.

“We should remain focused on that on the present threat, which is Delta,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ontario COVID-19 genomic network is continuing to actively monitor for all potential variants and is conducting genomic sequencing on 100 per cent of eligible COVID-19 positive samples on Ontario, he said.

“We also have the infrastructure in place to manage outbreaks, including high-volume for testing and community labs and over 500 pharmacies offer testing. Those are needed to rapidly identify and trace and isolate COVID-19 and its variants.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is urging countries not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new Omicron variant.

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions.

WHO praised South Africa for following international health regulations and informing WHO as soon as its national laboratory identified the omicron variant.

Cases of the Omicron variant popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world Sunday and many governments rushed to close their borders.

The WHO is also opening a long-planned special session of member states to discuss ways to strengthen the global fight against pandemics like the coronavirus, just as the worrying new Omicron variant has sparked immediate concerns worldwide.

In the wake of diplomatic wrangling, a draft resolution for the special World Health Assembly stops short of calling for work toward establishing a “pandemic treaty” that could beef up the international response when — not if — the next pandemic erupts.

European Union member states and others had sought language calling for work toward a treaty, but the United States and a few other countries countered that the substance of any accord should be worked out first before any such document is given a name.

A “treaty” would suggest a legally binding agreement that would require ratification — and would likely incur domestic political haggling in some countries.

AFTER-SCHOOL VACCINATION CLINICS

Starting Thursday, 73 schools across Ottawa will host after-school vaccination clinics on a rotating schedule.

Up to 10,000 appointments for children aged five to 11 will be available each week, said Ottawa Public Health. The schedule runs until Dec. 27.

Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said Monday evening that more than 8,400 kids in that age bracket had received their first doses as of Sunday night. According to Etches, over 40 per cent of the age group have either received their first dose or have an appointment to get one.

“That’s a good pattern of uptake,” Etches said, calling children who have received a COVID-19 vaccine the “heroes right now in our community.”

After-school clinics are open to anyone born in 2016 or earlier who lives in a neighbourhood near the school. The vaccine recipient does not need to be a student at the school. However, a parent or guardian’s consent is required for children between five and 11.

Drop-in appointments are available on a first-come-first-served basis during clinic hours. If the clinic is busy, appointment cards may be given out.

Meanwhile, Ottawa Public Health is working on door-to-door outreach in some neighbourhoods with community partners to give appointment cards. Appointments through the provincial booking portal are not available for after-school clinics.

For after-school clinic locations and hours, visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca/AfterSchoolClinics .

Other vaccination options for children five to 11 include Ottawa Public Health’s seven community clinics, more than 100 pharmacy locations across the city and primary care physicians.

CHEO is offering vaccinations to children with medically complex needs.

The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health will host a clinic at the Richelieu-Vanier Community Centre in partnership with OPH.

The Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team is providing vaccinations for Inuit youth. Call 613-740-0999 for more information or to book an appointment.

OPH is also working with operators of congregate care facilities to administer vaccines on site.

COVID-19 in Ontario

According to the province, 439 of Ontario’s 788 new cases reported Monday were in unvaccinated people, while 34 cases were in people with an unknown vaccination status.

Three more deaths were reported Monday, including one that occurred earlier but was added in a data cleanup.

In Ontario, 22,950,908 vaccine doses have been administered, with 89.7 per cent of Ontarians 12 and older now having at least one and 86.3 per cent having two doses.

There were 145 people hospitalized with the disease and 148 people in ICU, although all hospitals don’t report on the weekend.

Collectively, 617,803 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 BY THE NUMBERS

Ottawa (Reported Monday)

26: New cases

31,969: Total cases

0: New  deaths

618: Total deaths

11: In hospital with an active infection

1: In ICU

1.13: The reproduction number R(t). This is the average number of cases caused by a single infected person, on a seven-day average. A number greater than one indicates the virus is spreading

Ontario (Reported Monday)

738: New cases

617,803: Total confirmed cases

3: New deaths (includes deaths from a previous data cleanup)

9,997: Total deaths

145: Currently in hospital testing positive

23: Increase from Sunday

148: In ICU with COVID-related illness

89: On a ventilator

 

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