What Canadian health officials know so far about the Omicron variant of COVID-19

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Published December 10, 2021 at 4:08 pm

New federal modelling suggests the Omicron variant could propel an enormous spike in COVID-19 cases over the next few months. But there’s still a lot scientists need to learn about the latest mutation. Here’s what Canadian public health officials know about the variant so far: 

Prevalence 

— The Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to predominate in Canada and globally, but spread of the Omicron variant has increased. While most of Canada’s Omicron cases are linked to recent travel, federal public health officials say there is now evidence that community transmission is taking place in some areas.

Transmissibility 

— Omicron has potential to spread more quickly than Delta, which was already highly transmissible.

— In South Africa, cases have risen much quicker with Omicron than they did in previous waves.

— Greater transmissibility or reduced protection from prior infection or vaccination could drive resurgence.

Severity

— It’s not currently known whether Omicron carries a higher or lower risk of severe illness or death. 

— Some of the current COVID-19 treatments may be less effective against Omicron than against other variants.

— Larger numbers of cases could impact health-care capacity. If it’s assumed Omicron is three times more transmissible than Delta and becomes the dominant strain, the latest modelling suggests the number of daily cases in Canada could explode to 26,600 by mid-January from about 3,300 currently.

Immunity

— The effectiveness of current vaccines and their impact on Omicron is under investigation. There may be decreased protection against infection, but some level of protection against severe disease is likely to remain.

— Omicron may be able to escape immunity gained from prior infection.

— Omicron cases have been detected in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

(Source: Public Health Agency of Canada)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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