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After spending last December in a provincial lockdown, many Ontario families are getting ready to host in-person holiday celebrations once again. However, as more information becomes available regarding the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, it seems it may not be time to celebrate quite yet.

The Omicron variant was first detected in Canada on Nov. 28 in Ottawa. Today, the number of COVID-19 (Omicron) cases stands at 11. It is suspected that this variant may be more contagious than other strands, but there is not enough data available yet to be certain.

Experts say the best way to protect yourself against the Omicron variant and all strains of COVID-19 is to wear a mask and follow proper hand hygiene procedures, especially while in public. They also urge anyone who is feeling sick to isolate and get tested if necessary. Most importantly, health professionals urge everyone to get both doses of the vaccine, and a third booster once eligible.

The most recent data shows that patients who are fully vaccinated are, for the most part, experiencing milder symptoms and are much less likely to be hospitalized. Unvaccinated patients are more likely to experience severe symptoms and are at a higher risk of hospitalization.

While in-person gatherings are not being widely discouraged, a statement released by the Chief Medical Officer of Health served as a reminder that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Current guidelines allow indoor gatherings for up to 25 people, while outdoor gatherings can have up to 100 people, only if they are able to provide proof of vaccination. Work gatherings must be hosted at venues where adequate physical distancing can be observed, and masks are still encouraged. 

The Ontario government has also released a specific set of guidance for observing the holidays safely, which can be found on their website. Some of the recommendations include opening windows, disinfecting high-touch surfaces and creating a list of guests in case local public health units need one for contact tracing. People are also encouraged to wash their hands before and after opening gifts and wear face coverings if physical distancing measures cannot be maintained.

In light of the new variant, there have been some changes made to travel requirements, including mandatory testing to board as well as upon arrival. Travellers are also reminded to have a plan in case they become ill while away and are required to isolate for up to 14 days during their trip and/or upon their return.

For more information on the Omicron variant and other COVID-19 related news, be sure to keep up to date with the latest from the Ontario government here.