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Canada confirms 2 cases of Omicron variant

Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Days after the nation implemented stringent travel measures for travelers from seven southern African nations over growing concerns of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, health officials in Ontario on Sunday confirmed two cases of the spreading virus.

Christine Elliott, the deputy premier of Ontario and the province's minister of health, announced the confirmation in a statement, saying the two cases were reported in the capital Ottawa in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria.

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The patients are in isolation, and case and contact management are underway by Ottawa Public Health, she said.

Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a separate statement he was aware of the cases.

RELATED Fauci warns Omicron may 'evade immune protection' from COVID-19

"As the monitoring and testing continues with provinces and territories, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada," he said. "I know that this new variant may seen concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our communities."

On Friday, Duclos announced foreign nationals who have visited the southern African nations of South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia within 14 days before arriving in Canada would not be permitted entry.

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Little is known about the new variant named Omicron by the World Health Organization on Friday. In a statement, the WHO said "it is not yet clear" whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants of COVID-19 nor if it causes more severe disease.

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Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increase risk of reinfection with Omicron and WHO is working with partners to understand what impact it may have on vaccines.

The Progressive Conservative Party-led province of Ontario has since Omicron's discovery called on the Liberal federal government to implement more stringent border control measures, which Elliott reiterated on Sunday.

"We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travelers irrespective of where they're coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant," she said.

RELATED U.S. State Department advises against travel to eight African countries

Since the virus was first discovered, a handful of nations have confirmed cases, including Britain, Denmark and Israel, among others.

The virus has yet to be detected in the United States.

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