Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Nov. 29

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Quebec has confirmed one case of the new omicron COVID-19 variant, while two more cases have been confirmed in Ottawa, bringing the total detected in the city to four.

The emergence of the variant, which was first detected in South Africa last week and has been labelled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), has resulted in many countries, including Canada, moving to limit travel to and from southern African countries.

At a news conference Monday, Quebec’s Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said tests revealed the variant in a woman who had recently returned from Nigeria.

The case was discovered after 115 people in the province who had travelled to southern African countries were asked to take a new COVID-19 test and isolate, in accordance with new federal government rules announced Friday, Health Minister Christian Dubé said.

At a Monday news conference, Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé did not rule out tightening public health measures in response to the omicron variant, but said the government will wait to know more before making a decision. (Ivanoh Demers)

Quebec is the second province to confirm the presence of the variant, after two cases were confirmed in Ottawa on Sunday. Those cases, both in individuals who had also recently travelled from Nigeria, were found to have returned to the country through Montreal’s Trudeau airport.

Arruda would not confirm whether the cases were related.

Late Monday afternoon, Ottawa Public Health said two more returned travellers have tested positive for the variant.

In addition, Ontario is investigating two possible cases in the Hamilton area.

The province is reviewing measures to protect residents, including the possible acceleration of the province’s third dose vaccine strategy, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore at a news conference Monday.

WATCH | Ontario considering accelerating booster plan: 

Province considers accelerating booster plan as new variant emerges, says Ontario’s top doctor

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, says while the province doesn’t yet know the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new omicron coronavirus variant, it’s reviewing a plan to accelerate its third dose strategy. 1:16

“We will be reviewing options and providing them to government in the next few days, and I would anticipate an announcement by the end of this week on an enhanced strategy to best protect Ontarians,” he said.

— From CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | What we know and still have to learn about omicron and how news of a new variant should be handled: 

New variant will ‘mushroom everywhere,’ says Ontario science adviser

The omicron variant spreads rapidly, says Dr. Peter Jüni, the head of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, so we need to continue to act quickly with public health measures in Canada to help contain it. 7:52


What’s happening around the world

People wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 walk in downtown Lisbon on Monday. Portuguese health authorities have identified 13 cases of the omicron variant among members of the Lisbon-based Belenenses SAD soccer club. (Ana Brigida/The Associated Press)

As of Monday evening, more than 262 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.

WHO on Monday pushed for an international accord to help prevent and fight future pandemics, with Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying the emergence of the omicron variant “underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is.”

Tedros made the comments at a largely virtual special session of WHO’s member states at the World Health Assembly, a gathering aimed at devising a global action plan toward preventing, preparing for and responding to future pandemics.

Tedros called for a “legally binding” agreement that wasn’t mentioned in a draft text seeking consensus on the way forward. 

“Our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” he said, noting that South Africa and Botswana — where the new variant has been detected — should be praised and not “penalized” for their work, alluding to travel restrictions announced by many countries on air travel to and from the region.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci speak about the omicron variant in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans on Monday that the United States was prepared to handle the new omicron variant, pledging to accelerate development of vaccines to handle it if necessary.

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House following a meeting with his COVID-19 team.

“Sooner or later we are going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States,” Biden said. The White House is working with vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans, if needed, to handle omicron, he said.

In Europe, Britain reacted to concerns about the omicron variant by expanding its COVID-19 booster program to everyone 18 and older, making millions more people eligible. Up until now, booster shots were available only to those 40 and over and people particularly vulnerable to the virus. The U.K. has reported about a dozen omicron cases.

Spain on Monday became one of the latest countries to report its first confirmed omicron case, detected in a traveller who returned Sunday from South Africa after making a stopover in Amsterdam.

In Africa on Sunday, a South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect the presence of a new variant said omicron appeared so far to be producing mild symptoms.

However, Abdool Karim, a professor at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal and Columbia University in the United States, said it was too early to draw firm conclusions, because doctors can only comment on patients who they treat.

“In terms of clinical presentation, there’s not enough data yet,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s health minister called on Monday for a lifting of “discriminatory” travel bans imposed on southern African countries because of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“We find these travel bans discriminatory in light of the fact that the same travel bans have not been imposed on other countries where this variant has been found,” Joe Phaahla told WHO in a speech.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines on Monday launched an ambitious drive to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 in three days, deploying security forces and thousands of volunteers in a program made urgent by the threats of the omicron variant. Three million daily vaccinations would be nearly quadruple the national average of 829,000 during November.

People leave on a bus back to Malaysia as the vaccinated travel lane between Singapore and Malaysia opens. The land border between the countries reopened after being shut for nearly two years due to the pandemic. (Caroline Chia/Reuters)

Meanwhile, Singapore and Malaysia reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of remaining shut due to the pandemic.

In the Middle East, OPEC and its allies have postponed technical meetings to later this week, giving themselves more time to assess the impact of the new omicron coronavirus variant on oil demand and prices, according to OPEC+ sources and documents.

— From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET

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