PE Ledger

Canadian scientists are racing to understand a new omicron variant

scientists are racing

As omicron cases appear across Canada, key concerns remain unresolved.

Canadian scientists are scrambling to learn more about the omicron variant’s threat — how quickly it spreads if it causes more or less severe sickness, and if it can overcome past COVID-19 immunity — but it could be weeks before they have a whole picture.

In recent days, scores of suspected and confirmed cases of omicron have been reported across Canada, but several of them have no known link to overseas travel, raising concerns that the variant is already causing epidemics here.

Omicron has been linked to a cluster of at least 40 COVID-19 cases in London, Ont., that have been related to schools, child care centres, and a church, with 171 high-risk close contacts identified.

And nations like South Africa, Denmark, and England have already reported broad community transmission of the variation, indicating that omicron was already spreading in Europe before researchers in southern Africa discovered it.

Canadian laboratories are better equipped to deal with omicron.

However, since the alpha and beta forms of concern first emerged a year ago, Canada’s and the world’s capacity to examine this new variety and promptly disseminate information about it has increased substantially.

“The most essential thing Canadians should know is that we have spent more than a year creating genomic surveillance capacity,” Catalina Lopez-Correa, executive director of The Canadian COVID Genomics Network, stated (CanCOGeN).

scientists are racing

“However, it’s still early for us to anticipate clinical effects, transmissibility, or whether this variant will take over as quickly as delta… all of this will have to wait.”

Marc-André Langlois, a molecular virologist at the University of Ottawa and the director of the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net), says labs all around the country are doing omicron tests.

“What’s changed is that we’ve been able to bring together our academic laboratory assets,” Langlois explained. “We have epidemiologists, modellers, immunologists, and virologists, all of whom have joined together.”

According to Guillaume Bourque, director of bioinformatics at the McGill Genome Centre in Montreal, Canada may now act more promptly on the data.

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