Home Breaking News 171 in quarantine as possible London Omicron cases hits 40: health unit

171 in quarantine as possible London Omicron cases hits 40: health unit

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From delta-dominance, to Ground Zero in Ontario for COVID-19’s newest strain.

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Jennifer Bieman

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Dec 07, 2021  •  5 hours ago  •  4 minute read St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic elementary school in northwest London is one of three elementary schools in the city closed because of multiple cases of COVID-19 that are part of cluster of 40 probable Omicron cases. St. Nicholas and St. Mary Choir and Orchestra elementary schools have also moved classes online until at least Dec. 13, the London District Catholic school board said. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press) St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic elementary school in northwest London is one of three elementary schools in the city closed because of multiple cases of COVID-19 that are part of cluster of 40 probable Omicron cases. St. Nicholas and St. Mary Choir and Orchestra elementary schools have also moved classes online until at least Dec. 13, the London District Catholic school board said. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

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From Delta-dominance, to Ground Zero in Ontario for COVID-19’s newest strain.

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With at least 40 probable cases of the Omicron variant – and one confirmed by the health unit Tuesday – London is set to become a provincial hot spot for the latest COVID-19 mutation, potentially reaching a total that’s more than double the confirmed cases of the strain in the rest of Ontario so far.

With three schools closed already in its fallout, and 171 close contacts identified by London-area public health officials, the Middlesex-London Health Unit is working to control the community spread of the new variant.

“The cases are reported, we isolate them, we do a history and determine their close contacts, we quarantine the close contacts and get them tested,” acting medical officer of health Alex Summers said Tuesday.

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“All of this is an effort to get ahead of the transmission. . . . We have to quarantine all close contacts, regardless of their vaccination status, when it comes to Omicron. That’s a precautionary measure.”

The group of cases are linked to two travellers who arrived in London from Nigeria in late November, the health unit said. After a sample from the cluster screened positive for an Omicron marker on the weekend, the health unit announced Tuesday a full genetic sequencing of the sample confirmed it was the variant.

Further genetic sequencing will be completed on the samples from the 40-person cluster, Summers said, but health officials are treating each one as an Omicron case. At least 13 Omicron cases have been identified in Ontario to date.

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The cases in the London cluster are connected to a number of schools, child-care centres and a church in south London, God’s Favourite House.

About 14 COVID-19 cases at a church called God’s Favourite House on Dearness Drive in south London are part of a cluster of 40 suspected by the Middlesex-London Health Unit of being linked to the Omicron variant. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press) About 14 COVID-19 cases at a church called God’s Favourite House on Dearness Drive in south London are part of a cluster of 40 suspected by the Middlesex-London Health Unit of being linked to the Omicron variant. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

The London District Catholic school board shuttered three elementary schools as a precaution after a number of students and staff went into quarantine as a result of multiple confirmed or likely Omicron cases.

St. Marguerite, St. Nicholas and St. Mary Choir and Orchestra elementary schools are pushing their classes online until at least Monday because the cases affect staff who work in multiple classrooms, the board said.

The Thames Valley District school board on Monday night announced two schools, Princess Elizabeth elementary school in London and Delaware elementary school in Delaware, had close contacts with a potential Omicron variant case.

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The health unit is following up with the close contacts at both schools and all affected people are isolating, Thames Valley said.

London’s potential brush with Omicron, a strain first identified in South Africa, comes as Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table released modelling projecting intensive-care occupancy could reach 400 beds in January without the new variant wildcard, putting hospitals under strain.

The science advisers said cases in the province are rising substantially already , without accounting for Omicron.

Summers said the global scientific community’s understanding of Omicron is developing in real-time. There are indications the variant is more transmissible than Delta, the dominant strain in Ontario, and that it may cause mild symptoms in fully vaccinated people.

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“The thing we’re still waiting on is what the COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness is against Omicron. We certainly have seen cases among fully vaccinated individuals, but we’ve seen that with Delta, too,” Summers said.

“Regardless, we’re reassured by the fact that the severity of illness is mild, particularly in those who are vaccinated.”

The emergence of Omicron and its arrival in Canada is no surprise, said Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University’s Schulich school of medicine and dentistry.

Without global access to COVID-19 vaccines, the disease will continue to spread and mutate into different variants, he said. Canadians should see Omicron as a wake-up call to get serious about global vaccine equity, he said.

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“We’re definitely in a place of privilege in Ontario, with the vaccination rates that we have,” Mohan said.

“I’m very cautious at the moment. We are entering a very busy holiday season. . . . The one thing Omicron is good at is spreading quickly. If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re in a much better position than someone who isn’t. But keep in mind . . . we still have pockets of our population that are vulnerable.”

The Middlesex-London Health Unit reported 33 new cases and two additional deaths Tuesday. One of the deaths, a man in his 50s with no link to a long-term care or retirement home, was unvaccinated, Summers said.

COVID-19 was a contributing factor in the other death reported by the health unit, a fully vaccinated man in his 80s linked to a retirement home, Summers said.

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Ontario reported 928 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and nine additional deaths.

The health unit is expecting to release stronger guidance to the public on Thursday about how to make social gatherings safer, Summers said. Unregulated, informal gatherings are still a main driver of COVID-19 spread in London and Middlesex County, health officials say.

Even with Omicron’s arrival in London, Summers said the guidance to the general public is still the same.

“We have both an Omicron and a Delta problem. It’s a COVID problem. Transmission is increasing and case counts are increasing because of social gatherings in indoor environments,” Summers said.

“We’re advising fully vaccinated people to reduce their risk by reducing the social contacts they have. . . . If you are not vaccinated right now, you are at high risk of exposure and illness from COVID-19.”

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Twitter.com/JenatLFPress

About the Omicron variant

  • World Health Organization classified Omicron, B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern on Nov. 26
  • The variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa in mid-November
  • There is early evidence the variant is more transmissible than other COVID-19 strains and may cause milder illness
  • Effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines against the new strain is still being investigated
  • Omicron has prompted Canada to implement travel bans for several African countries and reinstate COVID-19 testing for arriving international travellers

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