First case of Omicron COVID-19 variant reported in Alberta

EDMONTON –

Six more Albertans have died due to COVID-19 as the province reported 238 new cases Tuesday as well as its first case of the Omicron variant.

The case was confirmed in a returning traveller from Nigeria and the Netherlands, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday afternoon.

“The individual tested positive while asymptomatic and I can confirm that this individual has not left quarantine since their arrival from international travel,” Hinshaw said. “As I mentioned yesterday, we anticipated the arrival of this variant in the province eventually based on what we have seen with previous strains of COVID-19.”

“We’re well prepared for this eventuality and have the necessary tools in place to monitor this case and any potential spread of the variant. As I have mentioned, the goal is to delay the spread of Omicron until we learn more about it.”

Little is known about the latest COVID-19 variant, Hinshaw stressed, before she added the province is being cautious with targeted contact tracing and testing to slow its spread and learn more about it.

The six deaths bring the number of deaths due to COVID-19 in Alberta up to 3,248. 

There are now 434 COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals, including 81 in intensive care units.

Last week, the first doses of vaccine were administered to young Albertans between the ages of five and 11 years old.

Unvaccinated Albertans remain significantly more likely to suffer a severe outcome after contracting COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.

More than three-quarters of all Albertans, 76.1 per cent, have had a first dose of vaccine and 71.4 per cent of the entire population has had a secod dose. 

Alberta’s next data update is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

GLOBAL OMICRON IMPACT

The discovery comes days after the federal government introduced travel restrictions from southern Africa in an effort to slow the variant’s growth.

Omicron has rattled global financial markets, with Wall Street reporting another dour day on Tuesday. That included a more than six per cent slide in crude oil prices that sent them to their lowest level in three months.

Earlier Tuesday, the province touted a smaller than expected deficit, largely due to higher than expected oil prices.

At the start of Tuesday, five known cases of the Omicron variant had been confirmed in Canada, as public health officials warned more cases were likely to be revealed in the coming days.

On Monday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province was closely monitoring new developments around the variant.

That day, Hinshaw noted the provincial lab is screening all COVID-19 positive samples for previously known variants. Nearly all cases of COVID-19 in the past week have been the Delta variant.

All returning travellers identified as a COVID-19 case are now subject to an expanded case investigation, contact tracing, and testing for close contacts, including rapid testing for household contacts.

Close contacts of returning travellers with cases are required to isolate for 14 days after their last contact, unless they are fully immunized.

“We are taking these interim measures in order to prevent potential spread as early as possible, giving ourselves time to learn more about the variant.”

OTHER COVID-19 RELATED NEWS 

Premier Jason Kenney says the province is considering easing private gathering restrictions for the holiday season if Alberta’s ICU pressure continues to ease. 

Alberta Health Services is allowing health-care workers at facilities at risk of being short staffed to take frequent COVID-19 tests rather than get a vaccine. A list of sites where the accommodation will be allowed has not been released by the government yet. 

Alberta’s updated vaccine status QR code for domestic and international travel can again be downloaded. Health Minister Jason Copping said Monday an investigation is underway into privacy breaches that may have occurred when it first launched.

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