Canada will be banning the entry of all foreign nationals who have travelled through southern Africa in the last 14 days as concerns over a new coronavirus variant grow.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said individuals who have travelled through southern Africa in the last 14 days and are currently in Canada are being asked to quarantine now and to go for a COVID-19 test.
The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Those individuals must remain in quarantine until they receive a negative result, he said.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said there are currently no direct flights from the region to Canada.
Canadians and other permanent residents returning to Canada from the region through another country must take a negative COVID-19 test in the third country.
They will also be tested upon arrival in Canada, Duclos said, and will quarantine until they have proof of a negative test.
He said these individuals will then be released to quarantine somewhere safe, but must be tested once again on day eight.
Duclos said Global Affairs Canada will also be issuing a travel advisory, asking all Canadians not to travel to southern Africa, noting the government is “acting quickly to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, laboratories across Canada have been “alerted” to the B.1.1.529 variant, and have “searched for possible detections.”
“But to date there are no indications of the variant’s presence in Canada,” Tam said. “There have not been any identifications of this variant through post-arrival testing of travellers to date.”
While the variant is still being studied, Tam said it is considered “unusual” due to the high number of mutations.
“Due to the potential for increased transmissibility and the possibility of increased resistance to vaccine induced protection, we’re concerned about this new variant and are closely monitoring the evolving situation,” she told reporters.
Tam said it is “very difficult” to keep the mutation out of Canada “entirely.”
“The border is never 100 per cent, but each layer provides an additional layer of protection,” she said.
While the travel ban currently only covers seven countries, Alghabra said officials will continue to monitor data from around the world as well as from tests conducted at the border.
“We’ll take additional precautionary measures if necessary,” he said, adding that officials will be “constantly” re-evaluating and reassessing the list of affected countries.
A ‘VARIANT OF CONCERN’
The news from Canada comes just after the World Health Organization (WHO) designated B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, and named it “Omicron.”
According to the WHO, the variant was first reported from South Africa on Nov. 24.
Since then, cases of the variant have been reported in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
The WHO said this variant has a “large number of mutations,” some of which “are concerning.”
“Preliminary evidence suggests and increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs,” a press release reads.
According to the WHO, the number of cases of this variant “appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa,”
Fears over the variant have prompted several countries including Britain, the U.S. and the European Union to tighten their border controls.
But, speaking at a media briefing on Friday, South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the travel bans are against the norms and standards of the WHO.