Early indications suggest that Omicron is the most transmissible variant of Covid-19, and its mutations have increased the risk that previously infected people will be reinfected with Covid-19. Experts view it as the worst variant of Covid-19 so far. The high number of mutations also suggests that the variant may evade immunity.

South African scientists' discovery of the variant has shaken global markets and led to fears that a new wave of infections will hit other countries in the next few months.

What the data shows

The data shows that in the week since the Omicron variant was first sequenced in South Africa and then discovered in Canada, there has been a seven per cent increase in the number of new cases of Covid-19.

In Ontario, Québec, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, there was an increase in the number of weekly cases compared to the previous week.

Ontario is important because it is the country's most populous province, so how the variant performs there will have a big say on the rest of the country. As of Tuesday, the province had just 21 new cases of the variant, with Canada as a whole having just 36 cases.

"We can't predict Omicron precisely, but it will almost certainly hit us hard and fast," the Ontario's science advisory table said.

Vaccine response to Omicron

One of the biggest causes of concern has been the effectiveness of vaccines. According to a report in the Financial Times, a booster shot of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine offers protection against the variant.

In contrast, just a double dose of the vaccine shows reduced effectiveness.

An announcement made by Pfizer suggests that a booster shot results in a 25-fold increase in the vaccine's effectiveness. A double dose may still protect against severe disease. Pfizer is working on a vaccine that targets Omicron explicitly.

Moderna also announced plans for an Omicron-specific vaccine, which the company believes will be ready early in 2022.

Officials are bracing themselves for a new wave to begin in early 2022, one in which the Omicron variant will become dominant. The new wave will initially be triggered by gatherings and other events held across Canada during the festive season. Even in controlled settings with social distancing and limits on the number of people who can gather together, it increases the risk of new infections.

Ontario has shelved plans to lift restrictions to give the province a better shot at controlling the infection rate in the coming wave.