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Health experts say it's only a matter of time until omicron variant spreads to Alberta

Last Updated Nov 30, 2021 at 10:25 am MDT

A medical technician handles samples of COVID-19 tests. (Photo by Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Health experts in Alberta say the province will likely see cases of the omicron variant soon, with spread to the province inevitable after the COVID-19 mutation was confirmed to be in Canada over the weekend.

Malgorzata Gasperowicz, a development biologist and researcher at the University of Calgary, says the variant could even already be in Alberta.

“I think it might already be here, because the previous [variants] were here quite early. So, for example, the Alpha variant, the one that is also called the U.K. variant of B.1.B.7, it was in Alberta already on December 15th, last year,” she told CityNews Calgary.

Ontario confirmed Canada’s first two cases of the new variant on Sunday. Both were individuals in Ottawa who had recently travelled to Nigeria. The province has since confirmed it is investigating four other suspected cases.

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The confirmation of cases came after the federal government brought in a new travel ban, restricting foreign visitors from a handful of countries in southern Africa, though Nigeria was not on the list.

Little is known about omicron at this time. Scientists know that omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants but do not know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease.

While many details remain unknown, several health experts, including Gasperowicz, recommend people get vaccinated to help protect themselves.

“Even if [the variant] will start spreading, it will spread slower than it would in unvaccinated populations or in populations that don’t use airborne precautions,” Gasperowicz added.

The World Health Organization says while the Omicron variant has a high chance of reinfection, being vaccinated will help prevent any severe outcomes.

“It’s like having less dry tinder, not fully wet but at least less dry, so if the [sparks come], they won’t catch up as quickly. If we are vaccinated, if we use airborne precautions, if we use rapid tests, if we work from home,” Gasperowicz said.

She recommends having mandatory quarantine for travellers coming back to Alberta.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s top doctor says she’s monitoring the situation. She says public health officials have contacted Albertans who have travelled to ‘countries of interest’ in the past 14-days.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reiterates there are currently no omicron cases in the province but notes she is working with Alberta Health Services on a proactive plan to manage any future cases of the variant.

Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Jason Copping, and other officials are set to provide an update on Monday about steps the province is taking in light of the new variant.

You can catch it live starting at 3:30 p.m. on-air and online.

-With files from The Associated Press and Kayla Bruch