As an alarming new COVID-19 variant emerges, Canada moves to limit travel from southern Africa


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

Starting today, all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique in the last 14 days will be barred from entering Canada.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home — but they’ll face a new requirement that could make travel awkward.

Because there are no direct flights between the region and Canada, most travellers transit through airports in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S.

Starting today, travellers must get a molecular test in the country they connect through on their way to Canada.

Then, after landing in Canada, inbound travellers must also get an arrival test and wait for the results of that test at a designated hotel. If the test is negative, those returning travellers would be released to quarantine for a mandatory 14 days at home. They also would be required to go through a so-called “day eight” test on the eighth day of quarantine.

And anyone who has arrived in Canada from southern Africa in the last 14 days must immediately get a COVID-19 test — even if they are asymptomatic. They’re required to go home and quarantine while they wait for those results. 

Countries around the world already have restricted travel from some areas of the African continent in an effort to keep the newly identified coronavirus variant — dubbed the “omicron” variant by the World Health Organization — from crossing their borders.

While many questions remain about how transmissible or virulent this new variant is, the U.K. Health Security Agency warned Friday that the new strain found in southern Africa is the “most complex” and the “most worrying we’ve seen.”

Britain, Israel and Singapore, among others, have restricted travel from South Africa and some neighbouring countries. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is proposing member states pull the “emergency brake” on travel from some countries in Africa to limit the spread of the variant.

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

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

Associate Health Minister Carolyn Bennett said pre-departure PCR testing is in place and those 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.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government wouldn’t take lessons from the Conservatives on pandemic management when the party’s leader, Erin O’Toole, refuses to require that all Conservative MPs get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Just last week, Alghabra said, the Conservatives were also calling for an end to pre-departure PCR testing and fewer travel restrictions.

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

Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease official, said banning flights to the United States from southern Africa is a “possibility” but that a decision has not been made yet.

“There is always the possibility of doing what the U.K. has done, namely block travel from South Africa and related countries,” Fauci said Friday morning in an interview on CNN.

“That’s certainly something you think about and get prepared to do … But you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”





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