Maritime provinces testing some travellers for COVID-19 Omicron variant

The new COVID-19 variant has Maritime public health officials on alert.

On Friday, federal counterparts notified Maritime officials of travellers who had already arrived in the region over the past 14 days from countries in southern Africa flagged by Ottawa – a list of nations that has grown as of Monday.

Travellers from 10 nations in the area are now banned from entering Canada.

“We have ten people that were identified as being recent travellers to southern Africa,” says Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang.

Strang says those people were all tested and results are pending.

A number of travellers to Prince Edward Island were also identified, although a provincial representative didn’t respond by deadline when CTV inquired.

Eight people arriving in New Brunswick were also identified and tested.

All of the travellers are now in quarantine.

“We're going to continue to do that kind of surveillance again with PCR testing for international travellers,” says Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health.

Both Strang and Russell say the labs in their respective provinces can screen samples for the Omicron variant. Those results would then be confirmed by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, while P.E.I. sends all its positive COVID-19 results there anyway.

P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, says getting a confirmation of a variant normally takes several days.

“We send all of them, regardless of the positives cases and their travel history,” she says.

All three officials say the region is in a good position to deal with the likelihood of Omicron’s eventual arrival.

“We have low levels of virus circulation, we have high levels of vaccine coverage,” says Strang. “And we still have some strong measures in place.”

All necessary, he says, to keeping Omicron – or any variant – at bay.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced new requirements for all international travellers to Canada. All of them, except for those coming from the United States, now have to be tested at the airport upon arrival.

As for whether provincial officials will be taking any extra measures, they say they are waiting for more information.

Morrison says getting a better understanding of the variant is a key part of making those decisions.

“Are we doing everything we can to protect Islanders, when we don't know everything yet about this variant and how effective our vaccine is against it?” Morrison asks.

“It does mean that we are evaluating if there are any other additional changes and measures and recommendations that we need to consider,” says Russell.

Those discussions will take place in earnest this week, as the federal government tracks the variant around the world and in Canada. 

Meanwhile, at a COVID-19 testing center in Halifax on Tuesday, some Nova Scotians took the news of a new variant in stride.

Jeff Kowalski and his wife brought their three-year-old daughter for testing after an exposure notice at her daycare.

“We're obviously concerned but I think we've been safe and careful and we'll just keep continuing what we've been doing,” he says.

Rachel Wozney came to get tested after returning from a trip to P.E.I.

“We've been able to quell all the outbreaks as they crop up,” Wozney says. “And I’m sure that we'll be able to handle this as well if it makes its way here.”