WHITEHORSE -- Two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been found in Yukon as the territory moves to expand its booster program to those aged 18 and over, says the acting chief medical officer of health

Dr. Catherine Elliott said that the two people with the newest variant of concern have “mild illness” and are recovering at home.

“Last week I mentioned it was only a matter of time before (Omicron) arrives in Yukon,” she told a news conference Wednesday. “So it's not surprising that this week I'm reporting that there are two confirmed cases of Omicron here. We anticipated this. We were prepared.”

Officials are “tailoring the duration of the isolation period” for those infected with Omicron, including managing household contacts more stringently, Elliott said. She did not give any details about whether the people had travelled, their symptoms, ages or if they were vaccinated.

“Household contacts, at this point, are being asked to isolate with those cases until we learn more about the variant,” she said.

Elliott said the evidence suggests that Omicron may be more transmissible than the Delta variant.

While Delta remains the dominant variant now, Omicron may replace it just as it did in South Africa, she added.

“The vaccine effectiveness against Omicron is not known at this time, and there's much speculation.”

Health officials expect the vaccines will still work on the variant to prevent severe illness and death, she said.

Elliott also announced Wednesday that the territory has opened its booster program to all those 18 years and older for people who had their last vaccination shot at least six months ago.

People aged 18 to 29 will be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for their booster shots and those 30 and older will be given Moderna.

“We hope to get everyone over the age of 18 the opportunity to have their booster early into the new year.”

However, she said the priority will be for children five to 11 to get their first shots, which began this week.

The territory has 44 active cases of COVID-19, Elliott said.

Cases have stabilized at a new higher level than what was seen in the summer, she said, noting there are about eight new cases a day.

“What this means is that we do continue to have community transmission here in Whitehorse.”

Yukon has had 14 fatalities related to the virus.

She asked residents to be careful as they gather for the holidays with more information on that coming next week.

“The amount of mixing that people do over the holidays, the impact of that will be borne out in early January,” Elliott said.

Masking requirements and other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 will be reassessed in the new year, Elliott said.

Proof-of-vaccination requirements were dropped on Dec. 4 for faith-based gatherings, sports for those under 18, or to access personal services such as a haircut.

- By Hina Alam in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.