OMG it's Omicron!

Omicron is the latest COVID variant making headlines around the world — and it's already here in Canada. Cases have been identified in Ontario and Quebec, and by the time you read this, there will probably be more.

Dr. Peter Jüni, head of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, says the variant spreads rapidly and may become the dominant strain unless governments and the public act quickly to contain the spread.

Luckily, there's no hard evidence that omicron is as dangerous as delta and other Greek-letter variants you may have heard of. Right now, the focus is on identifying cases across Canada — and where they've come from.

Omicron's origins

Omicron was first identified in South Africa. As a preventative measure, the Canadian government was quick to close off flights from seven African countries. Still, it wasn't enough, as a handful of cases have made their way to our shores. International travelers must be vaccinated to fly, but as we know, even vaccinated people can carry the virus.

Omicron's spreading elsewhere, too, including the United States and Europe. Mass testing is needed for travelers to avoid carrying the variant across borders.

Faster spread — milder symptoms?

Omicron is incredibly contagious and spreads easily. The jury's out on whether this variant is more deadly than delta, but many of those afflicted with omicron have shown milder symptoms.

This is good news, and according to some virologists, could indicate the COVID virus is shifting to an endemic phase, like the seasonal flu or the common cold. That's a step in the right direction!

What can you do to protect yourself from omicron?

The best move you can make is to follow the classic public health advice that you're probably accustomed to. Once more, with feeling, this means:

  • Proper mask usage when meeting with people outside your immediate circle
  • Limiting close contacts — yes, good ol' physical distancing
  • Proper ventilation in indoor spaces
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Following public health advice
  • Getting fully vaccinated, including a booster shot where available

You know this song by heart already!

(If you need some details, no worries! The World Health Organization (WHO) has got plenty of COVID info and advice for the public. Nothing omicron-specific just yet, but there's lots to digest.)

While news of a fresh variant (with a scary name) is always cause for concern, hope isn't lost just yet. Stay vigilant and keep proper public health measures in play, and omicron may not be that big a deal.

Encourage your friends and family to get vaccinated, if they haven't yet — getting vaxxed may not block the virus entirely, but it can lessen COVID symptoms and may accelerate recovery.

More details about omicron are sure to come out every day, so try not to get too caught up in the 24-hour news cycle. We'll bring you the most important updates about omicron — and any other new variants that spring up — when we have them. For now, there's no need to panic — about omicron, at least!

Get the latest on omicron from CBC