Highly transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant prompts Canadian ban on flights from southern Africa

From 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 after a new highly-infectious COVID-19 variant was discovered there, said federal officials.

All those who’ve arrived in Canada from here in the last 14 days will have to quarantine, get tested for the virus and stay in isolation until they receive a negative test result.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home but must take a COVID-19 test before they return and quarantine at a designated hotel until they receive a negative result.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the new travel ban today and said that Global Affairs Canada will also issue an advisory today warning against all travel to the region for the foreseeable future.

In a media statement earlier today, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the number of cases of this variant (initially named B.1.1.529) appeared to be increasing in almost all of South Africa’s provinces.

While COVID-19 case counts fell dramatically in that country in September and October after a delta-driven third wave, infections have since “increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant,” the WHO stated.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the new strain dubbed the “omicron” variant by the WHO is notable because it has a large number of mutations, which may affect its transmissibility and the effect of COVID-19 vaccines. But it has not yet been reported in Canada, she added.

Many countries, like Britain, Israel and Singapore, have already restricted travel from some areas of the African continent in an effort to keep this coronavirus variant from crossing their borders.

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.

When asked if the government would help those who may become stranded as a result of the travel ban, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Canadians have been warned about the risk of travelling during a global pandemic for nearly two years.

“We’ve been asking them to pay close attention to travel measures, to border restrictions,” he said. “But if any individual, any Canadian citizen, is having a hard time figuring out how to get back home, I encourage them to call the emergency watch centre to speak with an official. They will try and work with them to figure out how to get them home safely.”

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