new covid variant

What to know about the new Omicron COVID variant and concerns in Ontario

A new COVID variant Omicron is raising concerns across the globe and right here in Ontario.

The World Health Organization (WHO) just gave a name to the variant, previously known as B.1.1.529 and said it is "of concern."

Cases of the variant have been found in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong.

As news broke, Premier Doug Ford asked the federal government to stop all flights from countries of concern, and Canada just announced a sweeping ban on travellers who have been in seven countries in southern Africa in the last 14 days.

An independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of COVID-19 gathered on Nov. 26 to assess the variant, according to the WHO.

The variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Nov. 24 but the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on Nov. 9.

"This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO says. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs."

The variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.

This concern prompted Ford to raise the alarm for Ontario.

"We cannot repeat the same mistakes that allowed the Alpha and Delta variants to enter the country," he Tweeted in a statement. "Our best defense right now is topping this variant at the border."

At this point it is unclear if the vaccines are effective against the Omicron.

The WHO is asking all countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts.

And people are reminded to reduce their risk of COVID-19 with "proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated."

Lead photo by

Hospital Clínic Barcelona @franciscoavia

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