Canada is beefing up its defenses against the Omicron version of COVID-19 by requiring additional tests and quarantines for all inbound air travellers except those from the United States as it may negatively hit Canadian Immigration.
It is also prohibiting foreign citizens from traveling to Canada who has visited three additional African nations, only days after prohibiting travel from seven other countries in an effort to contain the new version of the deadly coronavirus.
With the variant already present in Canada, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Tuesday that Ottawa will require most international air travellers, regardless of whether they have been immunized against COVID-19, to undergo government-provided molecular tests upon arrival at Canadian airports. According to Duclos, this is in addition to the existing need to get tested and receive a negative result within 72 hours before traveling to Canada.
Travelers who are planning to migrate to Canada and are fully vaccinated would then have to self-quarantine in Canada until they receive a negative result from their arrival test, he said, adding that the new testing techniques would be introduced at Canadian airports "in the coming days."
This new restriction does not apply to travellers from the United States, but according to Duclos, the government may amend that depending on how the issue with the Omicron variation plays out. The federal government is also exploring with provinces whether to impose more stringent testing procedures at Canada's land border.
The federal government is also adding Nigeria, Malawi, and Egypt to the list of African nations where foreign visitors are not permitted. As well, the guidelines now state that any foreign individual who has visited such nations within the last two weeks is forbidden from entering Canada.
Canadian nationals and permanent residents who travelled there and have the right to return are now subject to stricter testing, isolation, and quarantine restrictions.
"The epidemic is far from ended," Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra told reporters on Tuesday, encouraging people to be vaccinated and follow public health precautions.
Even with the increased travel limitations, Duclos admits that "there will most certainly be community transmission of the novel type at some time in Canada." However, we see no sign of this currently since, as I previously stated, we were able to discover the instances of those travellers due to our border and other public health precautions."
However, in light of recent concerns regarding the Omicron version, the government is now requesting new recommendations from its vaccine advisory committee on the use of COVID-19 booster doses for the general public, rather than simply health workers and vulnerable groups as it is today. In addition, some nations, such as France, currently define "completely vaccinated" as three doses of a vaccine for persons over the age of 65.
According to the World Health Organization, the variation has changes that might aid in its spread and potentially undermine the protection given by vaccinations.
According to Duclos, the Omicron variation is a "cause of concern, not panic." Nevertheless, he believes its development is "yet another reason" why the vaccine advisory group should revise its recommendations for booster injections for fully immunized Canadians.
"We realize that this epidemic will stop only when it ends internationally," Duclos said, recognizing the "twin challenge" of safeguarding Canadians while also assisting poorer nations in obtaining vaccine doses to prevent the global spread of COVID-19.
More stringent border testing measures could help slow the spread of the new variant "if that is the goal," according to infectious diseases expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch, but there is a "big gaping hole" in the strategy, "and that gaping hole is the United States," because travellers flying in from the United States are not subject to the new on-arrival test-and-isolation requirements.
The reasons for omitting the United States are likely "political and pragmatic," according to Bogoch, but he said that there is little doubt the United States has Omicron instances — "they simply haven't found them yet."
Canada announced the new limits and enlarged travel ban as the Netherlands revealed on Tuesday that the Omicron variety appeared to have arrived in the nation before it was discovered in South Africa last week. In addition, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Hong Kong, Israel, Portugal, and the United Kingdom have all discovered the newest variety outside of the southern African area.
That is why Bogoch has stated that he does not like targeted country lists. "I believe this is basically a whack-a-mole game in which you add an increasing number of nations or regions to a list but are constantly two steps behind since the infection has already spread beyond those locations."
However, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's senior public health officer, stated that the country has only mentioned nations that have had problems recognizing the existence of the Omicron form despite indications that it is currently spreading.
According to Tam, the three additional countries listed Tuesday "have not yet reported Omicron variant in their own country prior to other countries reporting imports from those countries, including Belgium, Israel, Hong Kong, South Korea, and now Canada, who've detected cases before the country of origin has detected cases."
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