Despite growing alarm around the world about the spread of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant that could cause a fresh wave of COVID-19 and challenge the effectiveness of existing vaccines, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health says she’s waiting on more information before taking any firm evasive action.
“The spike protein on the virus has approximately 30 mutations, which makes it difficult to predict how it will behave, and we need to gather more real-world evidence to gauge effectively its impact,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Wednesday, Dec. 1, of the Omicron variant that was first detected in South Africa last week.
During her biweekly update, Fitzgerald noted that four Canadian provinces have now detected cases, and said she’s under no illusion this province won’t follow suit.
“Based on our experience with other variants and the global travel situation, we do expect to see cases here in the province eventually,” she said.
Canada has already halted flights from some at-risk regions, and plans to resume universal testing at the border.
While stricter measures may be considered in Newfoundland, Fitzerald said provincial restrictions are already vigilant. Travellers age 12 and over must isolate for at least seven days if they are not fully vaccinated, and must avoid certain risky situations for 14 days, even if a test comes back negative.
Children under 12 must avoid schools, day cares and other vulnerable situations for the first seven days.
As for universal booster shots, Fitzgerald said she’ll wait for a cue from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
“Everyone is looking at this at this point. Some countries have gone ahead with the recommendation,” she said.
Those countries include the U.K., where Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a “call to get jabs in arms” Wednesday as the country moved to step up its booster shot program.
Britain has reported 32 cases of the Omicron variant so far, according to Reuters news agency, and Johnson wants all adults to have the chance to get a booster by the end of January.
The Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. has also recommended anyone over 18 get a booster.
Meanwhile, Canada’s NACI still only recommends boosters for older and medically vulnerable citizens.
Keep it small
Fitzgerald did make one new recommendation to keep the spread of the disease low over the holidays: keeping household gatherings to a maximum of 25 people.
Formal gatherings are not the main source of spread, she said.
“We know, based on our own epidemiology, that it is at informal gatherings in the home,” she said.
Unlike last Christmas, however, she’s not recommending it has to be the same close contacts every time.
“If everyone follows this recommendation, it will go a long way towards reducing the risk of COVID spread and helping to relieve the pressure on Public Health for contact tracing and investigation.”
Another protective tool that seems to have paid off is the wastewater testing program in several communities around the province.
The program, which detects the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in human waste disposal, resulted in an alert for more testing in the town of Deer Lake.
“It appears that we have detected some cases as a result of that advisory,” Fitzgerald said.
“If you have only one symptom of COVID-19, even if mild, please get tested.”
The province reported two new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, both on the west coast of the island.
There were 22 active cases as of Wednesday, with no one in hospital.
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram