Canada has detected its first cases of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, in two people who travelled recently to Nigeria.
Both patients are in isolation while public health authorities trace their possible contacts, said federal and Ontario provincial officials on Sunday.
“I was informed today by the Public Health Agency of Canada that testing and monitoring of Covid-19 cases has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of concern in Ontario,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement.
“As the monitoring and testing continues,” he added, “it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada.”
The government of Ontario confirmed that the two cases are in the capital Ottawa.
The World Health Organization has listed Omicron as a “variant of concern” and countries around the world are now restricting travel from southern Africa, where the new strain was first detected, and taking other new precautions.
The WHO says it could take several weeks to know if there are significant changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for Covid vaccines, tests and treatments.
On Friday, Canada banned travel from seven African countries over concerns about the spread of the Omicron strain. Nigeria was not one of them.
Across the border in the United States, top infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci told President Joe Biden on Sunday it will take about two weeks to have definitive information on the Omicron variant.
Biden, returning to Washington following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, was briefed in person by his coronavirus response team on Sunday afternoon as officials expect the new variant to reach the United States despite an impending ban on travellers from southern Africa, where it was first detected.
Fauci said he believes existing vaccines are likely to provide “a degree of protection against severe cases of Covid”, and officials reiterated their recommendation for vaccinated Americans to get booster shots, according to a readout of the briefing.