Updated Nov 29, 2021 - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing at Toronto Pearson International Airport
COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

State of play: The two people in Canada who tested positive had recently traveled from Nigeria, per the statement from Ottawa Public Health.

  • France's Ministry of Health announced in a statement on Sunday evening that it has detected eight possible cases of the variant. Testing is underway to confirm their diagnosis.
  • Botswana's Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti announced Sunday that the country has identified 15 more cases of the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.
  • Health officials in Australia announced on Sunday that they detected two cases of the variant in travelers from southern Africa, the first such cases identified on the continent.
  • Both people who tested positive were asymptomatic and fully vaccinated, Australian health officials said in a statement.
  • The Netherlands also reported that they had identified cases of the variant among 13 passengers who arrived from southern Africa, per the National Institute for Health.

The big picture: Many countries have begun restricting or banning travel from nations in southern Africa in an effort to curb the spread of the variant.

  • Australia imposed new security measures just a day before the variant was identified, barring anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident from entering after having traveled to south African countries.
  • The Netherlands have also imposed restrictions on travel to and from southern Africa, and the country has also announced other measures such as an evening lockdown, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government on Monday joined Israel and Morocco in closing its borders to all foreign visitors as a precaution against the Omicron variant, per the NYT.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout.

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