Cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant found in Durham, Halton regions

Additional cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant have been confirmed in Ontario.

Health officials in Durham Region said that one person has tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which marked the first confirmed case in the Greater Toronto Area and the fifth case in Ontario.

In a news release issued Thursday, Durham Region Health Department said the case was found in a close contact of a returning traveller from southern Africa.

The health unit said it is also monitoring other COVID-19 cases under investigation for the Omicron variant based on travel history.

“While this new variant is no reason for alarm, it is important to remain vigilant and continue to follow public health measures that have proven to be effective throughout the pandemic,” Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham Region Medical Officer of Health, said.

On Thursday evening, health officials in Halton Region reported one lab-confirmed case of the Omicron variant -- the sixth in Ontario -- and two probable cases.

All three cases are linked with one of the probable cases that recently travelled to Nigeria, according to the health unit.

Meanwhile, A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Toronto East Detention Centre after five people tested positive for COVID-19, including at least one who is confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant.

Toronto Public Health declared the outbreak on Thursday afternoon, noting that it was doing so “out of an abundance of caution” because an individual linked to the facility was under investigation by the Durham Regional Health Department with a suspected case of the Omicron variant.

Little is yet known about Omicron at this point in time, including whether it is more contagious, causes more serious illness or renders vaccines less effective.

Scientists say it is of concern due to its high number of mutations. While the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, it may have already been widepsread before South African scientists flagged it to the world.

Four of the six Omicron cases found in Ontario so far are based in Ottawa.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters at a news conference today that he expects more cases of the variant will be confirmed soon.

“There'll be ongoing cases identified throughout today and in the coming days,” he said. “Our goal, in Ontario is just to dampen the spread of Omicron down over the coming weeks so that we can get the science from South Africa and international agencies like the WHO to understand this virus more fully.”

“It's a very dynamic situation. But we will see more cases and we potentially could see outbreaks, but we're on it.” 

With files from CP24's Chris Fox