REGINA — Saskatchewan says 40 people who have recently travelled from southern Africa are quarantining following the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, but there have been no confirmed cases in the province.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, says the travellers arrived in the province within the last 14 days from countries that include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia.
"They are required under the Quarantine Act to isolate at home for 14 days, and they've also been directed to get a test," Shahab said.
Just under half had submitted tests for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, he said, and public health officials were waiting for the results.
"We suspect most, if not all, to be negative," Shahab said.
He added that, should there be a positive test, the province is prepared to do genome sequencing to determine if the Delta or Omicron variant is involved.
Shahab said he is confident the province will be able to detect and contain an initial Omicron case. But he cautioned the situation could rapidly evolve, as community transmission of the variant appears to be happening in other countries.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said the situation will remain "status quo" in the province for now. He said no new COVID-19 measures are to be introduced, although he acknowledged Saskatchewan is not immune from the new variant.
On Tuesday, British Columbia and Alberta each confirmed their first Omicron case.Ontario announced its first cases on Sunday and Quebec reported its first case on Monday.
"If it's in Alberta, there's only a matter of time before it comes to Saskatchewan," Merriman said.
"We're ready for this on the testing side. In the meantime, the best way to make sure you don't get sick with any variant is to go out and get vaccinated."
Saskatchewan's hospitals remain under strain even as the fourth wave of the pandemic subsides.
At the peak of the wave two months ago, Saskatchewan was reporting more than 600 daily infections. On Tuesday, the province announced 42 new cases.
There were 133 people in hospital with the virus and intensive care units were 116 per cent overcapacity.
About 500 health-care workers who were deployed to help in hospitals have been able to return to their original jobs, but hundreds are still working in ICUs and acute care.
On Monday, the province resumed its organ donation program which has been suspended. In Saskatoon, the program was only partially resumed due to a staffing shortage.
In Regina, there were 20 vacant operating room positions. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said 36,000 residents are waiting for surgery.
Shahab has said that if the province were to be hit by a fifth wave, it would be the worst yet.
On Tuesday, he said the health authority is determining if it needs to fast-track booster shots.
People over the age of 65 and those living in the province's far north who are over the age of 50 currently are eligible for boosters.
"The lower the case numbers are, the lower our breakthrough cases will be, and we expect to see less in December," Shahab said.
"But I must say, no one is safe unless everyone is safe, and that applies to pockets of under-vaccinated communities in Saskatchewan, and that applies to parts of the world where populations are still waiting for their first dose.
"Globally, access to vaccines must improve. That will then reduce the pressure on new variants to emerge."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2021.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press