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A new COVID-19 variant of concern (VOC) was declared by the World Health Organization today.
Omicron first emerged in South Africa and coincided with a steep rise in COVID-19 cases in that region.
The Government of Canada acted quickly upon the news today, closing the country’s borders to visitors from southern Africa.
Jean−Yves Duclos, Canada’s health minister, confirmed this morning that there have been no cases detected in Canada yet and his provincial counterparts in British Columbia doubled down on that this afternoon.
"At this time, there is no evidence that this variant has been introduced into BC,” said a joint statement from Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“The BC Centre for Disease Control's public health lab has sequenced over 90,000 virus isolates in BC and will continue to use whole genome sequencing to monitor for all variants circulating in BC, including this new VOC Omicron.”
The statement said that BC health officials support the measures taken by the federal government today in response to the newly identified variant of concern.
“We do not yet know the impact this new VOC will have on transmission or of severity of illness, but taking this immediate precautionary action is prudent,” it said.
Dix and Henry confirmed that public health would be working with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada Border Services Agency to identify anyone who has recently returned from the areas of concern.
They will need to quarantine for the time being and get tested for COVID-19.
In BC, 91% of eligible people have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
“So far, all of the Health Canada-approved vaccines are highly effective and provide strong protection against all variants,” explained the statement.
“We will monitor the data on this new VOC to ensure that will continue to be the case.”