In a series of tweets sent Friday afternoon, Dr. Deena Hinshaw is looking to reassure Albertans the province is prepared to detect mutations of the COVID-19 virus after the World Health Organization identified another variant of the virus dubbed Omicron.
“At this time, there have been no cases of this variant detected in Canada,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health tweeted. “I want to reassure Albertans that our genetic sequencing program here in Alberta can detect mutations of the virus, including this new strain.”
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported by South Africa on Nov. 24, the WHO said in a press release. The first known infection with the variant was from a specimen collected on Nov. 9.
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“Early evidence shows an increased number of mutations and increased transmissibility,” Hinshaw said, adding it’s a reminder of how important the COVID-19 vaccine is.
“Having a complete vaccination series has historically provided a high level of protection against severe outcomes even with new variants of concern,” she said.
The federal government implemented a ban on travel from several south African countries on Friday, but Dr. Joe Vipond, a Calgary emergency room doctor, said it won’t be enough since there’s already evidence cases have been detected around the world.
He urged the provincial government to act quickly against this new variant.
“The precautionary principle says it doesn’t matter if we don’t know anything,” Vipond said. “Act early, and act hard, and then if you over-react that’s OK because you did what you needed to protect in the worst-case scenario.”
He thinks there needs to be two-week quarantine and testing for all inbound travellers, saying that would likely catch a lot of the incoming virus.
According to Vipond, Omicron spread so quickly in South Africa it out-competed Delta and is now the dominant strain.
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Nizanne Lourens is the manager at Betsy’s South African Deli in Edmonton. She is in Canada with her parents and her brothers, but they’re worried about family back home.
“It is scary,” she said. “We don’t know about the variant as much as we know about all the other ones. Is the COVID shots going to help? Or not? Who knows, right?”
Her family is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but now with this new variant, she’s not sure when she’ll see her extended family again.
“We’re doing the virtual video call, but it’s hard. I need to see my Oma and Opa, I need to see my family too,” she said.
“It is hard on us, but what can you do? We just follow the rules as we go.”
Friday COVID-19 numbers
On Friday, the government confirmed an additional 356 cases of COVID-19. There are now 5,017 active cases in the province, a slight increase from 4,969 active cases on Thursday.
There were 8,701 tests performed over the last 24 hours and the positivity rate was 4.18 per cent.
Calgary continues to have the highest number of active COVID-19 cases with 1,874. There are 1,163 active cases in the Edmonton zone, 852 in the North zone, 716 in the Central zone and 409 in the South zone.
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The province had three active cases not assigned to a specific zone.
There were 455 Albertans in hospital receiving care for COVID-19, with 90 of those people in the ICU. That’s down from 465 in hospital on Thursday with 98 in the ICU.
The province also confirmed an additional three COVID-19 deaths. There have now been 3,235 Albertans who have died from the virus.
As of Friday’s update, 88.6 of eligible Albertans aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Of the same group, 83.6 were fully vaccinated.
Though children aged 5-11 became eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, their numbers will not be counted until Saturday. The province’s reporting system counts doses administered by midnight the previous day.
Since the pandemic began, 334,203 Albertans have contracted COVID-19, while 325,951 have recovered.
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