OTTAWA -- Two Ottawa residents who recently travelled to Nigeria have tested positive for the newly discovered Omicron variant of COVID-19, the first cases of the variant in Canada.

The Ontario government announced the two cases of the variant were confirmed in the capital on Sunday, saying the cases are in individuals who had recently travelled from Nigeria to Ottawa. No other details were released.

The two people are self-isolating.

"In the coming days, we may see an increase in the number of people testing positive because of transmission of the Omicron variant in Ottawa," said medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches, in a statement Sunday evening.

"It is important to remember that this is not a new virus and that the public health measures that we practise will help reduce the spread of the Omicron variant. If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, do not wait a day or two days to see if your symptoms improve. Book a COVID-19 test immediately."

Etches says Ottawa Public Health follows up directly with all individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts.

"To protect the privacy of the individual, Ottawa Public Health cannot disclose additional information about any case of COVID-19," said Dr. Etches.

The World Health Organization designated B.1.1.529 a variant of concern last week, and named it "Omicron." The WHO said the variant was first reported by officials in South Africa on Nov. 24, and the first confirmed case came from a specimen collected on Nov. 9.

Dr. Etches says Ottawa Public Health is introducing new self-isolation and testing requirements for residents who have travelled to eight countries within 14 days before arriving in Canada, "to reduce the transmission of the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution."

The health unit advises individuals who have been to Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Namibia, within 14 days before arriving in Ottawa, and members of their households to: 

  1. Immediately self-isolate even if fully vaccinated. Follow federal guidance, and any additional guidance provided by Ottawa Public Health if contacted.  
  2. Seek testing for COVID-19 at one of Ottawa’s assessment centres regardless of whether they have symptoms. "Federal guidance at this time is for testing to occur immediately upon arrival and eight days after arrival," said the health unit.
  3. Isolate from household members. Example, stay in a separate room or stay in an isolation centre until receiving a negative test result. 

For information about staying in an isolation centre, Ottawa Public Health says you can call 613-580-2424 ext. 25890 or email OPHisolationcentre@ottawa.ca

On Friday, Canada announced travel restrictions for individuals who have visited seven countries in southern Africa. Nigeria was not on the list of the countries affected by Canada's travel restrictions.

In a statement, Health Minister Christine Elliott and chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore confirmed the two cases in Ottawa.

"Ontario is prepared and ready to respond to this new variant," said the statement.

"Our hospital and intensive care capacity remain stable and the province continues to report one of the lowest rates of active cases in the country. The Ontario COVID-19 Genomic Network is continuing to actively monitor for all potential variants circulating in the province, including the Omicron variant."

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says the detection of the two cases of the Omicron variant of concern in Ottawa shows Canada's monitoring system is working.

"As the monitoring and testing continues with provinces and territories, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada," said Duclos in a statement late Sunday afternoon.

"I know that this new variant may seem concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our communities."

The federal government announced a ban on foreign nationals who had travelled to seven countries in southern Africa over the past 14 days from entering Canada. The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been in the countries in the previous 14 days will be subject to enhanced testing, screening, and quarantine measures. All travellers will be required to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

Federal Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra says the federal government is prepared to strengthen measures to deal with the Omicron variant.

"Our government's priority will always be the health and safety of Canadians. We have some of the most robust border measures in the world and we announced further measures regarding the new variant Omicron," said Alghabra on Twitter.

With files from CP24 Web Content Writer Bryann Aguilar