As alarming new variant of COVID-19 emerges, Canada takes action to limit travel from southern Africa


Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos today announced that Canada will restrict travel from seven countries in southern Africa, a region that has reported cases of a new variant – and possibly more infectious – COVID-19.

As of today, all foreign nationals who have traveled to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique in the last 14 days will be prohibited from entering the Canada.

Global Affairs Canada will also issue an advisory today warning against all travel to the region for the foreseeable future, Duclos said.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home, but they will face a new requirement that could make travel difficult.

Because there are no direct flights between the region and Canada, most travelers pass through airports in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.

Beginning today, travelers must take a molecular test in the country through which they connect on their way to Canada.

Then, after landing in Canada, inbound travelers must also take an arrival test and wait for the results of that test at a designated hotel. If the test is negative, these returning travelers would be quarantined for a mandatory 14 days at home. They would also be required to undergo a so-called “eighth day” test on the eighth day of quarantine.

And anyone who has arrived in Canada from southern Africa in the past 14 days should immediately be tested for COVID-19, even if they are asymptomatic. They are required to return home and self-quarantine while awaiting these results.

As countries close their airspace to flights from southern Africa, it can become more difficult for travelers leaving the region to transit through other countries.

When asked if the government would help those who may find themselves stranded, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Canadians have been warned of the risk of travel during a global pandemic for almost two years.

“We asked them to pay special attention to travel measures, border restrictions,” he said. “But if someone, a Canadian citizen, is having trouble figuring out how to get home, I encourage them to call the emergency watch center to speak to a manager. They will try to work with them to figure out how to get them back. home safe and sound. “

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the new strain – dubbed the “omicron” variant by the World Health Organization (WHO) – has yet to be reported in Canada.

She said the omicron variant is notable because it has a large number of mutations, which can affect its transmissibility and the effect of COVID-19 vaccines.

It is not uncommon for a virus to mutate over time. WHO qualifies a particular strain as a variant of concern (VOC) when that mutation can affect factors such as transmissibility, virulence or vaccine efficacy.

While many questions remain, the UK Health Safety Agency today warned that the new variant is the “most complex” and “most disturbing that we have seen”.

In a press release, the WHO said today that the number of cases of this variant, originally named B.1.1.529, appeared to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.

While the number of COVID-19 cases declined dramatically in this country in September and October after a third wave driven by the delta, infections have since “risen sharply, coinciding with the detection of the B.1.1.529 variant” , said the WHO.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are of concern. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, compared to other VOCs.”

Countries around the world have already restricted travel from parts of the African continent in an effort to prevent the newly identified variant of the coronavirus from crossing their borders.

Britain, Israel and Singapore, among others, have restricted travel from South Africa and some neighboring countries. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, suggests that member states lift the “emergency brake” on travel from certain African countries to limit the spread of the variant.

During question period, Conservative MP Luc Berthold, the party’s health critic on Friday, called for swift action to prevent the new variant from derailing Canada’s progress in the fight against COVID- 19.

“Canadians are concerned,” said Berthold. “The Liberal government has been slow, slow to warn Canadians, slow to close borders, slow to provide vaccines. There is still time to protect Canadians who are fed up with lockdowns.

Associate Health Minister Carolyn Bennett said pre-departure PCR tests were in place and these tests “are capable of detecting this variant.”

“The COVID-19 situation around the world continues to be volatile and unpredictable and we continue to monitor the situation very closely,” she said.

Alghabra said the government would not learn lessons from the Conservatives on handling the pandemic when party leader Erin O’Toole refuses to demand that all Conservative MPs receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

As recently as last week, Alghabra said, Conservatives are also calling for an end to pre-departure PCR testing and fewer travel restrictions.

“Forgive me for not taking the advice of the Conservative Party,” he said.

Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease official, said the ban on flights to the US from southern Africa is a “possibility”, but a decision has yet to be made.

“There is always the possibility of doing what the UK has done, which is to block travel from South Africa and neighboring countries,” Fauci said Friday morning in an interview with CNN.

“It’s definitely something you are thinking about and preparing to do… But you want to make sure there is a basis for doing it.”

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