HALIFAX - Nova Scotia health officials reported 114 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and confirmed the first cases of the Omicron variant in the province — most of which were linked to a recent outbreak at St. Francis Xavier University.
The presence of the Omicron mutation has pushed officials to reduce limits on indoor gatherings and impose a range of other health orders. The recent outbreak tied to a Dec. 3 graduation ceremony at the Antigonish, N.S., university las led to four consecutive days of new cases reaching triple digits, Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, told reporters.
"Nova Scotians should expect to continue to see high daily case numbers, and cases will go up before they go down," Strang said.
Strang said the National Microbiology Laboratory has confirmed that 40 previously reported COVID-19 infections in the province involved the Omicron variant — the majority of which have been linked to the university outbreak.
"It's not all Omicron, but we can expect to see a growing percentage of our cases being Omicron," Strang said. "These numbers I am seeing are more than I anticipated, and I think what we are actually seeing is how transmissible and how easily this Omicron variant can spread."
Strang also reported an outbreak at Parkland Antigonish, a seniors living community, where two residents and two staff members from the retirement home have tested positive. He said one staff member from Mary's Court, a licensed long-term care facility in Antigonish, had also tested positive.
The two outbreaks at the seniors homes coupled with eight presumptive cases identified on the weekend at Dalhousie University in Halifax are also linked to the St. FX ceremony, he added.
The arrival of the Omicron variant in the province has led officials to tighten restrictions regarding indoor gatherings and physical distancing, Premier Tim Houston told reporters Monday.
"The variant spreads faster, but it appears to be less severe," Houston said. "Despite that and our encouraging vaccination rates, we need to slow the spread of the variant down."
He said starting Tuesday and until at least the new year, restrictions would increase in schools. They include a limit on sports activities and an end to holiday concerts.
Starting Friday, indoor and outdoor informal gatherings will be limited to 20 people. For organized social gatherings, faith services, weddings, funerals and sports and cultural events, capacity will be limited to 50 per cent, to a maximum of 150 people indoors and 250 people outdoors. In long-term care homes, residents will be limited to two visitors at a time who will only be allowed to touch them for a quick hug.
"We don't know enough about this variant to wait and see what happens," Strang said. "We cannot take the risk of wider spread into more vulnerable groups like seniors and those who are immune compromised."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2021.
— with files by Michael Tutton in Halifax.