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New COVID-19 variant posing new questions about public health, individual decisions

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Many Albertans seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the latest COVID-19 variant in the province. 

Four cases of the new Omicron strain have been confirmed by government officials to CTV News. The highly-transmissible "Kraken" strain is becoming dominant in many countries, and some experts suspect Canada won't be far behind. 

But at the Calgary International Airport, that doesn't appear to have changed the behaviour of many travellers.  

Masks were few and far between Thursday afternoon and many of those jet-setting said they won't don a face covering unless it's "absolutely necessary."

Some experts think that time is closing in. 

"If we could delay (the strain's dominance) until spring, we would be in such a better place," biologist Gosia Gasperowicz said. "And we could do much, much more."

Gasperowicz is just one voice currently calling for new public health measures to help fend off the variant. 

"We could put mask requirements for everybody in public places, in schools and hospitals and so on, because we know that works," she told CTV News. "The other things we can do is putting HEPA air purifiers in public places, because they reduce aerosols in the air -- especially in enclosed spaces."

Alberta Health is expected to release updated COVID-19 data on Friday.

There is no indication Alberta will go down that path under Premier Danielle Smith. 

A statement from her health minister's office Thursday touched on the unpredictability of the "Kraken" strain and echoed the messaging from many doctors: so much is still unknown about the latest variant and what its severity could do to care facilities. 

"The vast majority of Albertans and Canadians have been infected with Omicron, as shown by seroprevalence data," a statement from spokesperson Steve Buick said. "COVID is certainly still putting pressure on the hospitals, but proportionally, the impact is far less than before.

"That does not mean we're at no risk: just less risk."

Alberta Health is expected to release updated COVID-19 data on Friday.

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