Canada imposes travel bans on flights from South Africa and neighboring countries

A new COVID-19 strain, now known as Omicron or B.1.1.529, raises alarms around the world due to its extremely high transmission level

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OTTAWA – Canada is closing the border to all foreigners who have been to seven countries in southern Africa in the last 14 days as a new COVID-19 variant of concern raises alarms around the world.

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The ban and a host of new test and quarantine requirements for returning Canadians apply to people who have put as much as a foot in either South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini in the last two weeks, health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said this on Friday afternoon.

For example, those in Canada who have visited one of these countries within the last two weeks should now be quarantined and get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.

Canadians and permanent residents who will visit the area in the future must have a negative PCR COVID-19 test before the last part of their return journey (there are no direct flights from there to Canada), and will then be tested on arrival in Canada and sent to a quarantine hotel until they get a negative result.

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When that happens, they will be able to leave the hotel in quarantine at home for 14 days and be tested once more, eight days after their arrival in Canada.

All these new requirements apply regardless of vaccination status, the ministers clarified.

The news comes as the new COVID-19 strain, currently known as B.1.1.529 and first identified this week, was officially designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday and was named ” omicron “”.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are of concern.

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Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection with this variant compared to others (concern variants), the WHO said in a statement.

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) will also update its travel guides to strongly discourage travel to any of these seven countries.

Canada’s latest measures are expected to remain in place until January 31, although ministers warned that they could be expanded and expanded to include more countries if the omicron variant becomes widespread in other countries.

On the same day, the US government also announced a similar travel ban for foreigners who had recently visited southern Africa. Britain closed its border with South Africa on Thursday night, and the European Commission recommended that all member states also suspend flights from southern Africa and “other affected countries”.

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This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are of concern

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that no case of the new variant has yet been discovered here.

Tam explained that the omicron variant is so worrying because it contains a series of mutations in two key regions of the virus’ nail protein, which allow it to penetrate our body’s cells and cause an infection. Early data indicate that the new strain has an extremely high transmission rate.

“Mutations to these areas can affect our body’s natural immunity, as well as potentially reduce immunity offered by vaccines,” Tam said.

“Due to the potential for increased transmissibility and the potential for increased resistance to vaccine-induced protection, we are concerned about this new variant and are closely monitoring the evolving situation.”

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Hours before the announcement, opposition parties and leaders of Canada’s largest provinces on Friday morning called on the federal government to ban all unnecessary travel from African countries affected by the new variant.

“With reports of the proliferation of a new COVID-19 variant, we have a small window of opportunity to act and we must move now. Canada’s Conservatives are urging Justin Trudeau to secure Canada’s borders,” said Conservative leader Erin O ‘Toole in a statement Friday morning.

The call was quickly repeated by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Quebec Premier François Legault and the Bloc Québécois.

“We can not repeat the same mistakes that allowed the Alpha and Delta variants to enter our country. Our best defense right now is to stop this variant at the border,” Ford said in a statement Friday.

A Hong Kong health ministry spokesman told Reuters later on Thursday that it was discovered in a person traveling from Canada who was in quarantine in a hotel room next to another traveler from South Africa, who turned out to have the variant and a mask of poor quality. .

Canada’s top doctor said she was aware of the case and her department would follow up with Hong Kong officials to get more details on the case. But she also said she suspects the Canadian traveler had probably caught it during the trip or at the quarantine hotel.

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