MONTREAL -- The Omicron variant isn't yet spreading locally within Quebec, or it wasn't as of Nov. 30, according to the province's first effort to monitor the troubling variant on home turf.

"Quebec has rapidly deployed surveillance of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) in recent days" and will continue to ramp up the effort, the province said in a release Monday afternoon. 

It started with a "one-off survey" to screen as many positive COVID-19 tests as possible from a single day, Nov. 30, for the variant.

There were the 1,174 positive samples that day, but only some had enough of a viral load to be used for DNA sampling. The province's public health lab received and screened 894 of the tests.

Among these, no Omicron variant was detected.

This one-day screening "allows us to have a 'photo' of the current situation in Quebec," the province wrote.

"Currently, this variant does not seem to be circulating in the community, apart from cases related to travellers."

Only one case of Omicron has been confirmed -- the traveller, already reported, who was returning from Nigeria. That person's case was confirmed on Nov. 29.

The province is still monitoring travellers and their contacts closely to see if there are new Omicron cases in this group, it said.


More specifically, all travellers returning to Quebec from foreign countries who test positive for COVID-19 have their samples pre-screened, with two particular mutations looked for -- Omicron famously has more than 50 mutations. Both these particular mutations aren't present in the Delta variant, which is dominant in Quebec.

If the pre-screening is positive, the sample moves on to genome sequencing, which can definitively confirm an Omicron case.

While the Omicron variant is "of concern," the release said, "we do not yet have reliable estimates of the extent to which the Omicron variant might be more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines, so it is too early to provide an evidence-based assessment of the risk it poses."

The count of daily cases in Quebec saw a sharp increase last week, with a tally of over 1,100 for several days in a row. In Monday's release, the province didn't address whether it believes this could still be due to Omicron taking hold after its one-day screening portrait, and it didn't say when it will provide the next update.