Manitoba experts saying not to panic over new Omicron COVID-19 variant

With the newest COVID-19 variant of concern continuing to surface in Canada, some Manitoba experts are saying not to panic.

Omicron was first discovered in southern Africa and now cases of the variant have been confirmed in Ontario and Quebec. This is causing concern for some Manitoba residents, who are worried about potential restrictions.

This includes nutrition and food science researcher Dylan MacKay, who after almost two years is once again enrolling participants into studies.

"My research group, we are really excited about starting a bunch of trials this week essentially and into next year," he said.

MacKay said if the new variant leads to new restrictions his planned in-person research may not be possible.

"We thought about that a lot over the last year and a half, how we can reduce contact in case the pandemic continued or the pandemic got worse. That’s really where we might be leaning on that with the new variant,’" MacKay said.

Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said as more information is learned about the Omicron variant, it is important not to panic or get over-anxious.

"This sounds scary that there are cases identified in Canada," she said.

Carr noted some positives in the situation are that we're hearing about this variant of concern quickly, it's easily detectable through testing, and some vaccine manufacturers are already working on a modified shot.

She said every time a new variant is discovered, there is the same cycle of identification, and worldwide cases related to travel.

"Not every situation did that lead to an escalation of cases. Delta is highly efficient. Yes, it did overtake and become the predominant strain. We don’t know if that is going to happen with this,” Carr said.

According to Monday's provincial bulletin: “No cases of the B.1.1.529 (omicron) variant have been detected in Manitoba at this time and the province can confirm that all positive travel-related specimens are being sequenced.”

As this new variant dominates the COVID-19 conversation, MacKay has been talking with immunologist and virologist colleagues as he goes forward with his research.

"Just waiting to see what the next publications will be on how dangerous it is, how much it spreads, that kind of stuff," he said.

Canada is now barring travellers from seven southern African countries.

The province said it is monitoring the situation and working with federal officials.