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Omicron: Check and trace at border lock, expert says

BARRIE – The travel bans implemented across seven South African countries in an effort to keep the new omicron variant of COVID-19 out of Canada must be backed up with more stringent testing and tracing at the border, according to BARRIE. an expert in this field.

Dr Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist in Saskatoon, told CTV News Channel that the travel ban implemented on Friday should include “very, very careful and very comprehensive screening at the borders of travelers at the border. calendar to the country.”

“I really think that’s what we need to focus on,” he said. “Checking, tracing [and] if necessary, isolate our travelers beyond any of the travel bans in our travel bans. “

“Those are very crude measures, like a sledgehammer,” he continued, “And I think we need a little bit more data-driven measures, like testing, spot tracing.”

Mihajarine’s comments come as Canada confirmed the first two cases of B.1.1.529 – or the omicron variant – in Ontario.

In a statement Sunday night, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of the health department, said both cases of the omicron variant were detected in Ottawa.

“Both have been reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria,” the statement read. “Ottawa Public Health is working on case and contact management and the patients are in isolation.”

Canada’s Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said that as surveillance and testing continues across the country, “it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada. ”

“I know this new variant seems worrisome, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccinations, combined with public health and personal protective measures, are working to reduce the spread of this disease. COVID-19 and its variants in our community,” Duclos said in a statement on Sunday.

On Friday, officials announced a travel ban, barring foreign visitors from seven South African countries from entering Canada.

Border measures have been tightened for anyone who has been to South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia.

Officials are also asking anyone who has been to one of the countries in the past 14 days, currently in Canada, to be tested for COVID-19 and quarantined.

Canadians or other permanent residents who wish to re-enter the country must also quarantine for 14 days and undergo advanced screening and testing.

Global Affairs Canada has also issued a travel advisory, urging Canadians not to travel to the area.

Canada is just one of a number of countries, including the US, UK and the European Union, that have implemented stricter travel rules over concerns about omicron variation.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Canada’s Director of Public Health, Dr Theresa Tam, said the omicron variant was “unusual” because it had a high number of mutations.

“Given the potential for increased transmissibility and the potential for increased resistance to vaccine-induced protection, we are concerned about this new variant and are monitoring it closely,” she told reporters. developments.

Tam said labs across the country had been “warned” of the new variant, but acknowledged that it would be “very difficult” to prevent the omicron variant from reaching Canada.

Dr Zain Chagla, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University, told The Canadian Press that “blind closure” doesn’t make scientific sense, adding that this variant may have been detected for the first time. in South Africa because they have a good genome surveillance infrastructure. .

“This may have been in circulation for a while,” he told the outlet. “It really doesn’t make sense for us to use a rigid travel ban as a way of containing cases, compared to minimizing the spread.”

This highlights the urgent need for a unified, global effort to increase access to vaccines around the world, Chagla said.

He said Canada should assess whether it should import more vaccines for people at low risk, or whether it should proceed with the supply of vaccines to countries in need. .

“If we’re going to repeat the same mistakes this time and keep re-vaccinating our lowest-risk populations and forget about our global mandate, I’m pretty sure we will see this scenario play out over and over again,” he said.

VERY EARLY DAY

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the omicron as a ‘variant of concern’ on Friday.

On Sunday, the WHO said it was not yet clear whether the variant, first reported in South Africa, was more transmissible than other variants or if it would cause more severe disease.

“Preliminary data suggest an increasing rate of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to an increasing total number of people infected, not to a specific infection,” the WHO said.

Muhajarine echoed this, saying we are in the “early days” of variant research.

“I think scientists, lab scientists are really doing experiments to understand how transmission, and especially whether this variant has an advantage in dodging, in To some extent vaccines induce antibody immunity, the first line of defense for vaccines and the body, he said.

With files from the Canadian Press

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