OTTAWA – Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos attended an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers today to discuss the emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The new variant appeared in South Africa, coinciding with an increase in COVID-19 cases in the region.
The news prompted border closures as well as screening measures in Canada and around the world.
Two cases of the Omicron variant have been discovered in Ottawa, and public-health workers are doing contact tracing in an attempt to stamp out transmission.
Officials warn more cases are likely to be found within Canada in coming days.
A spokeswoman for Duclos said more information about the virtual G7 meeting will be released later today.
The developments come as countries debate a new global convention on pandemic preparedness and response at a special meeting of the World Health Assembly today.
It is only the second time the group has held an emergency summit of this kind.
If member countries agree, the assembly would begin developing what would essentially serve as an international treaty on pandemic readiness.
“Global health security is too important to be left to chance, or goodwill, or shifting geopolitical currents, or the vested interests of companies and shareholders,” World Health Organization director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the outset of the summit.
“The best way we can address them is with a legally binding agreement between nations: an accord forged from the recognition that we have no future but a common future.”
He said the emergence of the Omicron variant underlines the perilous and precarious nature of the global situation.
“Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics. Our current system disincentives countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” he said.
The idea is to prevent another global crisis like the one posed by COVID-19 and its new, potentially more transmissible variants.
“Our position has always been that we are stronger when we work together,” Duclos said Friday in support of a new convention.
A binding international agreement would help countries to collaborate and would allow Canada to more easily share its expertise on the world stage, Duclos said.
“That level of policy and scientific leadership is a sign that we can do even better in the future as we collaborate with WHO and other organization in order to prevent the incidents of future pandemics and protect Canadians against such things.”
The WHO working group on the file says governments should look to develop the convention in tandem with efforts to strengthen existing international health regulations.