Omicron variant likely linked to cluster of at least 30 COVID-19 cases
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) says there is a "strong probability" that the Omicron variant is linked to a cluster of at least 30 cases of COVID-19 in the region.
Officials say they were notified of two cases screening positive for the 'S' gene target failure (SGTF),' which is a marker for the Omicron variant.
The two cases are part of a cluster linked to travellers who arrived in London from Nigeria late last month.
During a virtual media briefing Monday, MLHU Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Summers said, "Although the whole genome sequencing results that are required to confirm that these cases are indeed Omicron are not yet available, the combination of travel history and screening results make this highly likely that Omicron is here in Middlesex and London."
An outbreak of at least 14 cases at God's Favourite House church on Dearness Drive in south London is also linked to the cluster.
The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) says they have identified two schools with the potential close contact to the Omicron variant.
Princess Elizabeth Public School and Delaware Public School have indentified close contact cases. Both schools will remain open at this time.
Meanwhile the London District Catholic School Board has temporarily closed three of its schools due the number of students and staff who must quarantine.
The number of high-risk close contacts of this cluster continues to increase, and the health unit expects it will exceed 100.
While the investigation is "unfolding rapidly" Summers was able to say that, to his knowledge, the travellers were fully vaccinated and had followed federal guidelines around testing.
"It appears there may have been household transmission that had subsequently spilled out of the house, resulting in transmission in the community."
Summers said that those impacted over the age of 12 were largely vaccinated, and that while they are symptomatic, there have been no hospitalizations associated with the cluster.
"I do want to highlight, as I mentioned before, being fully vaccinated still reduces your risk of transmission even likely with Omicron, and certainly it will reduce the probability of hospitalization and that is a notable success."
The health unit is continuing to follow up with persons under investigation and with close contacts and asks that anyone contacted follow their direction.
"The news of the Omicron variant today is upsetting, it is unsettling, it is certainly not something we were looking for as we sit here at the end of 2021," Summers said. "However, the same principles that have helped us weather this storm so far are the same principles will help us weather this as well."
Those measures include vaccination, masking, limiting social contacts and gatherings and staying home and getting tested if you're sick.
The health unit is expected to put out additional guidelines later this week in an effort to curb rising case counts.