Ottawa issues travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa in wake of new variant of concern
Published Friday, November 26, 2021 11:00AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 26, 2021 5:20PM EST
Ottawa is immediately implementing travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa until at least Jan. 31, 2022 after the detection of a new variant of concern.
Federal officials announced on Friday new travel restrictions for foreign nationals and Canadians in response to the new variant of concern, named Omicron by the World Health Organization.
“Due to the potential for increased transmissibility and the possibility of increased resistance to vaccine induced protection, we are concerned about this new variant and closely monitoring the evolving situation,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer said in a COVID-19 update on Friday afternoon.
Effective immediately, the federal government will be prohibiting all foreign nationals who stayed in South Africa in the past 14 days from entering Canada.
Countries affected by the travel ban include South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Eswaitini, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Namibia.
Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said restrictions will not be imposed on other countries right now but the government will closely monitor the situation.
"If we need to adjust this list of countries based on the information that we have and based on the doctors' advice that we receive, we will do so. For now, it is just these seven countries but we will constantly re-evaluate and assess the list of those countries," he said.
All Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are travelling from southern Africa will have to be tested immediately upon returning to Canada and will have to go into quarantine at a federally approved location until they receive a negative result. If they do test negative, they can continue their quarantine at home and will have to take another test on their tenth day of quarantine.
Canadians who leave southern Africa and travel through an indirect country on their journey home will have to get tested in that country before entering Canada.
"The requirement is that they get tested from their last destination, their last city that they've transited from. This is an added precautionary measure so we are actually learning from other lessons and from other situations, and this is an added layer of protection," Alghabra said.
In addition, Global Affairs is issuing a travel advisory strongly discouraging travel to southern Africa for the time being.
Alghabra said on Friday that there are currently no direct flights to Canada from southern Africa.
Tam said the virus has not yet been detected in Canada
“There have not been any identifications of this variant through post-arrival testing of international travellers to date. Although the epidemiological significance of this variant is still being assessed, it is considered unusual in that it has a very high number of mutations and two key areas of the virus's spike protein,” she said.
FORD CALLED ON OTTAWA TO IMPLEMENT TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
Earlier on Friday, Premier Doug Ford called on Ottawa to immediately ban all flights and passengers from countries of concern.
“Anyone arriving before the ban is implemented should be tested and quarantined, including the many passengers arriving today. Out of an abundance of caution, we must also reintroduce point-of-arrival testing for all passengers arriving to Canada, regardless of where they’re coming from,” he said.
He also said that he asked Public Health Ontario to implement expanded surveillance and update scenario planning in response to the new variant.
“We cannot repeat the same mistakes that allowed the Alpha and Delta variants to enter our country. Our best defense right now is stopping this variant at the border,” Ford said.
Provincial officials said there have been roughly 9,000 travellers that have arrived in Canada from South Africa since June 2021, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital Dr. Isaac Bogoch said it’s too early to say how contagious the new variant is.
“You're going to hear a lot of scary things over the next day or two. But the truth is we just don't know enough about it. But we are going to learn a ton about this over the days and probably over the weeks to come,” he told CP24 on Friday.
Bogoch added that a travel ban on certain countries likely won’t stop the variant from spreading into a county but border restrictions could help slow down transmission.
“If you truly wanted to prevent something like this from coming into your country you need border restriction. I'm not saying by any means we should do this, I'm just telling you this is how you prevent something from coming into your country...border restrictions and quarantine, that's how you really slow down and potentially stop something from coming into your country,” he said.
On Thursday, South Africa’s health minister said the variant is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people.
Health officials in the United Kingdom have raised concerns about the effectiveness of vaccines that are currently available against the new variant.
A number of European nations also announced on Friday that they are planning to stop air travel from southern Africa.
The U.S. government will also impose similar restrictions starting on Monday.
-With files from The Associated Press.