Ottawa bans foreigners from seven African countries amid Omicron COVID variant fears
OTTAWA – The federal government immediately bans foreign nationals from entering Canada if they have been to any of the seven African countries in the past two weeks, amid growing fears of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus that has scared the financial markets and caused a rush to restrict travel around the world on Friday.
Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Health, said the government was taking “swift” measures to prevent a potential threat from this variant, and presented five new measures that would be implemented immediately.
The government is banning foreigners who have visited South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia in the past two weeks. It is also forcing Canadian travelers from southern Africa who are already in that country to self-isolate, get tested and self-quarantine until they test negative.
Permanent residents and others with the right to enter Canada from the region must be tested on arrival and will need to be quarantined until they receive negative test results, Duclos said.
Ottawa is also urging Canadians not to travel to these seven southern African countries and will require Canadians who come from the region to be tested abroad before arriving in this country. Since there are no direct flights from the region to Canada, the government is asking travelers to get tested where they stop for a connecting flight, Duclos said.
âIt might seem like an overreaction from some points of view, but it really follows a principle of abundance of caution,â said Duclos.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra added that the situation is “another reminder” of the importance of vaccines and the current severity of the pandemic crisis.
“We must do everything in our power to prevent (the variant) from entering our country and prepare for it if it does,” said Alghabra.
The World Health Organization also said on Friday that the new strain of the virus was a “worrying variant” and dubbed it with the Greek letter Omicron. The organization uses a “variant of concern” to describe mutated strains of COVID-19 that could spread more easily, increase the strength of the virus, or decrease the effectiveness of public health measures and treatments like vaccines.
In a statement, the WHO said the new variant of Omicron had a “large number of mutations” and that early evidence suggests it may carry an “increased risk of reinfection”.
The Omicron variant was first reported on Wednesday in South Africa and has since spread to neighboring countries and more distant places like Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium, where only one case of infection was a woman who traveled to Egypt.
In Ottawa, Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam said mutations in the Omicron variant include changes in two “key areas” that could help the virus spread more easily and be more widespread. resistant to treatment. But there is still not enough evidence to be sure, she added.
Tam also said she expects other countries to detect cases of Omicron in the coming days, and the new measures are meant to be an extra layer of protection for Canadians.
âI don’t think people should be surprised if we got detection (in Canada),â she said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that people who come from the region into the country are quarantined.”
She added that authorities will monitor other countries where the variant has been detected and respond accordingly if more cases are reported.
Canada is also set to add travel restrictions to other countries, Duclos said. The minister added that officials believe that the ban on flights from the region by other jurisdictions and no direct flights from there to Canada offers the country a kind of “double” protection from there. ‘where the variant was first detected.
Just two hours before Ottawa established travel restrictions, the 27-member European Union also suspended flights to the bloc from the region. The UK has also banned travel from southern Africa, with the country’s top health adviser warning that the new variant was “the most worrying so far,” the Guardian newspaper reported.
Earlier on Friday, the federal Conservatives and the Bloc QuÃ©bÃ©cois called on the government to impose travel restrictions because of the variant. At Queen’s Park, Ontario Premier Doug Ford also called for action to prevent infected people from entering Canada and spreading the virus.
“Our best defense right now is to stop this variant at the border,” Ford said in a statement.
The call from Ford and his federal Conservative cousins ââechoed criticism both sides leveled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals throughout the pandemic. In May, Ford launched a video ad campaign that blamed the federal government for how more contagious variants of the virus arrived from overseas and fueled waves of infection in the province.
Conservative MP Raquel Dancho resumed that line of attack on Friday, declaring outside the House of Commons that the Liberals “took their time and stood idly by to the detriment of Canada and the spread of variants to across our country “.
Fears also rocked global financial markets on Friday, with shares of major airlines plummeting and oil prices falling 7%.
In a policy brief sent Friday, CIBC Economics chief economist Avery Shenfield warned that rising infections in European countries like Germany and Austria could “bring back tougher health measures that could be more disruptive to economic activity than those that have been abandoned â.
Shenfield said the need for prolonged health measures and the expected booster doses will delay economic recovery, including an end to high inflation and production deficits.
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