The first Alberta case of the new Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has been identified.
On Tuesday afternoon, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said this individual returned to the province a week ago after travelling in Nigeria and the Netherlands. A standard COVID-19 test given to all returning travellers yielded a COVID-positive result.
This test swab was then put through another DNA test to check for mutations and the Omicron variant was detected. Hinshaw said there is a time lag to get this second test result, but Albertans need not be concerned as the person has never left quarantine.
Additional contact tracing was also done to identify those who had close associations with this person and additional protective health measures were applied.
The Alberta government is not releasing the location of this person, or which airport the individual arrived at. Since the person has been under strict quarantine, Hinshaw said there’s no increased risk to the public and no need to jeopardize the individual’s confidentiality.
The person had travelled alone, she said, while stressing that no one should be stigmatized for contracting a variant of the virus. “Show empathy for this household and others… no one has done anything wrong.”
The government had previously reported that 156 travellers had returned to Alberta in the 14 days before international border restrictions were imposed by the federal government. Hinshaw said each of these people has received a phone call from Alberta health and were offered home testing kits.
The Delta variant is still the most pervasive in Alberta. But there’s a growing concern about the Omicron variant, which was detected in South Africa and other countries because it has a great many more mutations.
Scientists haven’t yet determined whether this makes it more dangerous or transmissible, or whether it increases the potential for someone who has already had COVID-19 to be reinfected.
These outstanding questions have prompted the World Health Organization to give it a high risk assessment.
Hinshaw stressed that vaccines are still the best protection against any variant. “This is not a reset to ground zero,” she said.
Hinshaw added that she’s glad for the chance to vaccinate her own children now that inoculations are available for those age 5 to 11 years.
Although Alberta has reached a near 90 per cent coverage of at least one vaccine jab for those age 12 or over, Hinshaw said this leaves out 10 per cent of the province’s population. But she anticipates the province will get closer to collective immunity now that most younger children are eligible for vaccinations.
There’s no word yet with the holiday season approaching whether provincial rules will be relaxed on crowd sizes. Hinshaw indicated that more should be known over the next few weeks.