Omicron Variant Now in North America as Canada Identifies First Cases of the COVID Strain

Health officials said that two cases of the Omicron variant were identified in Ontario in people who had recently been to Nigeria

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Testing for COVID-19. Photo: PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty

The COVID-19 variant Omicron has officially arrived in North America — two cases were identified in Canada, health officials said Sunday night.

The cases were found in Ontario in two people who had recently returned from Nigeria, according to health officials from the province. They are currently conducting contact tracing to see if other people in the area may also have cases containing the variant.

Two Ontario health officials, Christine Elliott and Kieran Moore, asked Canadian lawmakers to implement testing for anyone entering the country, NBC News reported.

"We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travelers irrespective of where they're coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant," they said.

Canada is one of 16 countries that has identified cases of the Omicron variant so far, and the World Health Organization said Sunday that they expect it to spread globally.

The United States has not yet confirmed a case of the Omicron variant, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Saturday that he "would not be surprised" if it already is in the country.

"We have not detected it yet [in the U.S.]," he said, "but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you're already having travel-related cases that they've noted in Israel and Belgium and in other places — when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over."

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President Joe Biden emphasized Monday, though, that the variant is a "cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

"We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day," he said Monday. "We'll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion."

And Fauci and other health experts have urged vaccinations and booster shots to protect against the variant.

"It is absolutely essential that unvaccinated people get vaccinated and the vaccinated people get boosters," Fauci said. "We know now clearly that when you get a booster shot ... you dramatically increase the level of protection [you have]."

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