REGINA -- Saskatchewan’s health minister said officials in the province are keeping a close watch on developments around the new Omicron variant.

“I met with Dr. Shahab specifically on this this morning to get his point of view,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said. “He’s keeping a very close eye to make sure, when we do get some information we’ll be able to get that out to the general public.”

Merriman said the best defense against COVID-19, and its variants, is to get fully vaccinated.

So far, the Omicron variant has not been detected in Saskatchewan. However, officials have confirmed cases in both Ontario and Quebec.

According to Merriman, Saskatchewan labs are equipped to test for the variant

“If they do get a positive test, then it goes to the next level of testing to make sure that it’s identified as that specific variant,” Merriman said.

Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious diseases specialist, says the variant has likely been circulating for weeks, but it is too early to tell how it will impact Saskatchewan.

“I don’t necessarily think this is a reason for panic at this point,” Wong said.

“It was inevitable that we were going to see new variants.”

The World Health Organization declared Omicron a variant of concern last week. Now, Wong says the biggest question is how the new variant will compare to the Delta variant. According to Wong, it could take two to four weeks to better understand Omicron.

“The main thing that makes it unique and a bit worrisome is the fact that it has a lot of different mutations,” said Wong, adding health experts are working to understand the transmissibility and severity of the variant.

Wong says officials will also be monitoring how well vaccines work against the new variant. According to Wong, there may be “decreased effectiveness.” However, he says vaccines will maintain “some degree of protection.”

While we likely cannot stop the spread of the Omicron variant, Wong says we can slow it down through travel restrictions, quarantining and PCR testing, as well as everyday measures like masking and social distancing.

 

“All of these are critical in managing any variant,” he said.