While the worrying variant SARS-CoV-2 Omnicron is still in the early stages in Canada, health experts expect to see it spread much more quickly and aggressively than the delta variant, which could raise additional concerns for the Christmas season.
Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said Monday that there is evidence to suggest that the doubling time for the new COVID-19 variant is twice that of the Delta variant.
“What we know about this particular variant is that it is highly mutated, much more so than any of the other variants of interest,” Muhajarine said. “That is remarkable. It has about three times as many mutations in that spike protein compared to all other variants of interest. It can replicate and survive better in human cells, so the transmissibility is higher. “
“He’s been supermuted, really.”
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Scientists may need two to four weeks before they fully understand how it will spread and affect the population, including those with antibodies from previous COVID-19 infections.
Muhajarine also said the new strain couldn’t have come at a worse time for Canadians.
“This Christmas season, this is the second year in a row that we have to be careful to gather in large groups, for a long time indoors,” Muhajarine said, “especially with people whose vaccination status we do not know.”
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He added that people should take all the precautions they were taking before the vaccine was launched and avoid spending time with people with unknown vaccination status.
“I would not recommend mixing with people whose vaccination status is unknown, or who do not want to disclose it,” he said. “If you are vaccinated, share that information with whoever you come in contact with. Don’t wait until they ask, just say so, because it’s a great thing to share. “
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He says travel bans probably won’t stop this variant, but he recommends stronger testing and isolation protocols to create a stronger barrier against rapidly evolving mutations.
Health Minister Paul Merriman answered questions about the province’s response to the new variant on Monday afternoon.
His main message was that things would remain the same until the province’s medical director of health had more information.
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“I think (the public) should continue to do what they have been doing in terms of adhering to public health measures,” Merriman said. “Go get vaccinated and make sure you distance yourself socially. Take your personal risk assessment. We are monitoring this. We are watching it very closely.
“I met with Dr. Shahab specifically this morning to get his point of view. He is very vigilant to make sure that when we get some information we will be able to give it to the general public, but for now it is the status quo. “
Merriman said he is not aware of any samples of the new variant that have been available for testing, but that the province is prepared for its arrival.
“They told me that the labs are ready to make sure that we can test this specific variant,” he said.
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Provincial health officials continue to push for more vaccines, boosters for those who may need them, and continued diligence with public health guidelines.
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