Ottawa announced new measures to stem the spread of the Omicron variant in Canada, expanding the travel ban to include foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt and adding testing requirements for travelers returning to Canada from all over the world except the United States.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Tuesday that the three African countries – which have been added to a list of seven in southern Africa where the variant has been detected – are struggling to measure what’s going on inside of their borders. But he explained that the decision was more about the travelers passing through them, and not the citizens of those countries.
Mr Duclos said vaccinated international air travelers arriving from countries other than the United States will need to be tested at the airport and will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative test result. Unvaccinated travelers will need to be quarantined for 14 days, as was previously the case. They will continue to be tested upon arrival and on the eighth day.
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Mr Duclos also said the government is asking the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to provide advice on whether Canada should review national standards, attitudes and actions on the use of booster injections. the light of the new variant.
Like much of the world, Canada is considering the next steps in its response to Omicron.
In remarks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not specifically address measures to contain the new variant, although he did acknowledge that the pandemic is going through new phases. He began his remarks just before members of his cabinet announced the new border restrictions. He said future efforts to fight the pandemic will include strengthened border measures to deal with the variants of concern, ensure reminders and doses for children and look to the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as develop new ones. new vaccines in Canada.
There are now seven cases in Canada, including four in Ontario and one in Quebec, and Alberta and British Columbia confirmed their first cases on Tuesday.
Mr Duclos said the new variant might be of less concern than some experts fear, but the situation might turn out differently as well.
“We remind Canadians that travel rules and border rules in particular can always change,” he said.
The new variant comes with several unknowns, such as its degree of transmissibility. Public health experts said they would be monitoring the situation closely over the next few weeks to gather more information. Scientists have expressed concerns about Omicron because it has a large number of mutations, many of them in the spike protein, which some fear may make it more transmissible or better able to escape vaccines.
The World Health Organization says the risk of spread is high and could have serious consequences for some countries, especially those with relatively low vaccination rates. Omicron has now appeared in at least 16 countries.
The infected person in Alberta traveled from Nigeria and the Netherlands about a week ago, according to the province’s chief medical officer, Deena Hinshaw.
British Columbia provincial health official Bonnie Henry said on Tuesday that the case in her province was someone who recently visited Nigeria. She said there were no signs of community spread of the new variant in the province yet, but warned that cautious action must be taken in the coming weeks.
“Here in British Columbia, we are fortunate to have a lot of safeguards in place already, but we have to anticipate and plan for the worst,” she said.
Dr Henry also said it is inevitable that more cases will be confirmed in the province.
On Friday, the federal government announced restrictions on travel from seven southern African countries, banning all foreign nationals who had traveled there in the past 14 days. The announcement follows the WHO designation of Omicron as a variant of concern.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said on Tuesday that the three countries added to the travel ban list had not reported any variant cases before other countries reported their imports. She said this highlights a possible uncertainty in the overall epidemiological situation in these three countries – in particular, their ability to detect and respond to cases. These countries also have very low vaccination rates, she added.
Ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that, rather than travel bans, a more effective science-based approach would involve improved testing and quarantine measures.
Specific bans on travelers from certain countries do not appear to be an effective strategy for ensuring personal safety, Singh added.
“If that doesn’t work, why are we doing it? ” he said.
He also said Canada must push for a waiver of vaccine patent protection to get the world’s poorest citizens in the arms, adding that the interests of big pharmaceutical companies should not come first.
With files from Carrie Tait in Calgary, Xiao Xu in Vancouver, Carly Weeks in Toronto and Ian Bailey in Ottawa
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