The Omicron variant of the virus responsible for Covid-19 has reached the NWT, the territory’s chief public health officer said on Sunday.
The number or location of Omicron cases was not given, but the territory said an exposure warning issued earlier this week for two WestJet flights was now considered to involve the new variant.
Sunday’s advisory came as the territory anticipates a burst of travel over the holiday period, much of it south to areas already experiencing an Omicron surge. Changes are being urgently made to try to cope with an influx of returning travellers and, potentially, Omicron cases.
From now on, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said, anyone considered a contact of Covid-19 in the NWT must isolate for at least eight days – regardless of their vaccination status.
A negative test on day eight will release you from isolation if you have no symptoms, otherwise you must wait for a full 10 days. All contacts must be tested on day four after exposure and on day eight, and those tests must be laboratory PCR tests.
Dr Kandola said anyone considered a contact is urged to isolate wherever they are when they are told as much, as the territory tries to keep fast-spreading Omicron out of smaller NWT communities, some of which have full vaccination rates lower than the territorial average.
“Any movement of persons who have Covid-19 increases the risk of transmission to the public and to communities,” Kandola said in a Sunday statement.
“The appearance of the Omicron variant in the NWT is not a surprise.
“What we currently know about the Omicron variant is that is highly transmissible. We must ensure people are supported to isolate at home as much as possible in community settings.”
Kandola said two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine do provide some protection against the Omicron variant. However, she acknowledged that Omicron has been shown to often evade the defences a two-dose vaccination regimen provides.
Early research does suggest a booster shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine performs well at stopping Omicron infection. Both are mRNA vaccines and are so far the only two appearing to show significant protection against infection by the latest variant.
If you were in rows 23-29 of WestJet’s flight 280 from Kelowna to Calgary on December 13, or rows 16 to 22 of flight 3359 from Calgary to Yellowknife on the same day, you must now isolate regardless of vaccination status. See the NWT government’s exposure notifications page for more information.
More broadly, Kandola asked returning travellers to be as cautious as possible in the three days after they reach the NWT.
Sunday’s advisory stated: “This means that for the first 72 hours on return from travel, you limit contacts between your household and others; wear well-fitted and constructed masks in social settings, especially in indoor crowded settings; avoid high-risk activities; and do not attend large gatherings.”
Kandola added: “It is also more important now to ensure you isolate away from others and arrange for testing at the first sign of symptoms.
“Omicron symptoms appear to present more like the common cold (runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat) so please continue to be vigilant.”