Fact Check: Omicron was in Canadian wastewater in November before it was found in South Africa

Omicron was found in Nova Scotia wastewater weeks before it was discovered by the province — and even before the novel COVID-19 strain was reported by South Africa, according to new research from Dalhousie University in Canada. 

Explaining the situation, Professor Graham Gagnon, director of the Dalhousie University Centre for Water Resource Studies, said that “Our team detected Omicron , retrospectively, in Nova Scotia wastewater in mid-November and will be able to provide further information in the future.” 

In late November, the first Omicron case was reported in South Africa.

On December 13, the first cases in Nova Scotia were confirmed, and they were related to a COVID-19 epidemic at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

According to the university, the virus survives longer in the gastrointestinal tract than in the respiratory tract, which means genetic material can be identified in human waste despite the fact that COVID-19 is a respiratory sickness.

Since December 2020, the Dalhousie team has been monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 indicators at the Halifax region’s four main wastewater treatment plants: Halifax, Dartmouth, Mill Cove, and Eastern Passage, as well as the Dalhousie campus’s five student dormitories. 

“For us, it’s been a successful project,” said Gagnon. “It’s a tool that can be used to help make decisions.”

Other sections of Canada are undergoing similar tests.

Since Omicron was discovered in the province in December, the levels of the COVID-19 virus reported in wastewater have surged by nearly 88 percent in Saskatchewan.

According to Gagnon, a similar surge occurred in Nova Scotia, but he declined to be more precise until the data was double-checked. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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