Today’s coronavirus news: Further tests underway to see if any link to Omicron variant
The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
7:56 a.m.: A retirement residence located in New Sudbury is at the tail end of a severe COVID-19 outbreak that claimed the life of one of its residents.
A source told The Sudbury Star that the outbreak at Chartwell’s Westmount on William retirement residence, which was declared by Public Health Sudbury and Districts on Nov. 5, resulted in a “complete lockdown” of the facility.
The health unit said there were 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19 associated with the outbreak, while Chartwell said it confirmed 26 cases in residents and two in staff members.
In a statement issued on Nov. 24, the long-term-care home said that almost all of the cases associated with this outbreak have been resolved and it has worked diligently to follow all public health guidance to get the situation under control.
“Overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak at Chartwell Westmount on William is our highest priority,” said Sharon Ranalli, the vice-president of marketing and communications at Chartwell.
“Sadly, we had one resident pass away in hospital. Our condolences are extended to their family and loved ones and to their fellow residents and staff for the loss of this community member.”
7:56 a.m.: Public Health Sudbury and Districts announced on Friday that it is once again implementing further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
In a release, the health unit said that COVID-19 case rates in the Sudbury district remain “unacceptably high” and the region is among the “top three most affected jurisdictions in Ontario.”
As a result, effective on Monday, Nov. 29, at 12:01 a.m., businesses and organizations in the City of Greater Sudbury will be required to ensure that workers are conducting their work remotely, unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site at the workplace.
Public Health is also partnering with area school boards to introduce “voluntary” Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) screening of students.
Other strongly recommended actions include RAT screening or proof of vaccination for students participating in certain extracurricular sports, strengthened health and safety measures, and mandatory daily confirmation of symptom screening at schools.
“We have carefully reviewed recent data and consulted with the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe.
7:55 a.m.: With each passing hour, new restrictions were being slapped on travel from countries in southern Africa as the world scurried Saturday to contain a new variant of the coronavirus that has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines.
A host of countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States, joined others, including the European Union and the U.K. in impose restrictions on southern African countries in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant — against the advice of the World Health Organization.
Despite the shutdown of flights, there was increasing evidence that the variant is already spreading. Cases have been reported in travellers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong, and Germany also has a probable case.
7:53 a.m.: A total of 61 people who arrived in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for the coronavirus and were in isolation on Saturday as the world anxiously sought to contain a highly transmissible new coronavirus variant.
Further tests are now underway on the travellers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to establish if any of them have the new omicron variant of COVID-19 that was first discovered in southern Africa.
The variant’s swift spread among young people in South Africa has alarmed health professionals. In just two weeks, omicron has turned a period of low transmission in the country into one of rapid growth.
Two planes arrived in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town shortly after the Dutch government, along with other nations around the world, on Friday imposed a ban on flights from southern African nations following discovery of the new omicron variant.
The Kennermerland local health authority, which is responsible for the testing and isolation operation, said in an update Saturday that the people who tested positive must quarantine for seven days if they have symptoms and five days if they are symptom-free.
The 539 travellers who tested negative were allowed to return home or continue their journeys to other countries. Under government regulations, those who live in the Netherlands and are allowed to return home must self-isolate for at least five days.
7:53 a.m.: As the world grapples with the emergence of the new highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, worried scientists in South Africa — where omicron was first identified — are scrambling to combat its lightning spread across the country.
In the space of two weeks, the omicron variant has sent South Africa from a period of low transmission to rapid growth of new confirmed cases. The country’s numbers are still relatively low, with 2,828 new confirmed cases recorded Friday, but omicron’s speed in infecting young South Africans has alarmed health professionals.
“We’re seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients with COVID-19,” Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital, told an online press briefing.
“Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65% are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated,” said Mathivha. “I’m worried that as the numbers go up, the public health care facilities will become overwhelmed.”
She said urgent preparations are needed to enable public hospitals to cope with a potential large influx of patients needing intensive care.
“We know we have a new variant,” said Mathivha. “The worst case scenario is that it hits us like delta … we need to have critical care beds ready.”
What looked like a cluster infection among some university students in Pretoria ballooned into hundreds of new cases and then thousands, first in the capital city and then to nearby Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.
Studying the surge, scientists identified the new variant that diagnostic tests indicate is likely responsible for as many as 90% of the new cases, according to South Africa’s health officials. Early studies show that it has a reproduction rate of 2 — meaning that every person infected by it is likely to spread it to two other people.
Saturday 7:50 a.m.: Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world raced Friday to contain a new coronavirus variant potentially more dangerous than the one that has fuelled relentless waves of infection on nearly every continent.
A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.
“It seems to spread rapidly,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the new variant, only a day after celebrating the resumption of Thanksgiving gatherings for millions of American families and the sense that normal life was coming back at least for the vaccinated. In announcing new travel restrictions, he told reporters, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.”
Omicron’s actual risks are not understood. But early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants, the WHO said. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.
In response to the variant’s discovery in southern Africa, the United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.