Canada enacts travel restrictions for southern Africa in light of new COVID-19 variant – National

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The federal government is banning the entry of foreign nationals into Canada if they have travelled through southern Africa in light of a new COVID-19 variant being discovered there.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Friday that the federal government will impose five measures in an effort to limit the spread of the new variant.

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WHO designates new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ as variant of concern

Foreign nationals who have travelled through southern Africa in the past 14 days won’t be allowed into the country, he said. Those countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

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

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Canadian citizens and permanent residents coming home will be tested on arrival in Canada. They must quarantine until they get a negative test.

Global Affairs Canada will also issue a travel advisory against travel to southern Africa, and Canadians returning from that region who travel through another country must be tested in that country before they can come home.

“We really want to make sure we’re doing all we can to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” Duclos said.


Click to play video: 'COVID-19: U.K. bans flights from South Africa, some neighbouring countries after variant identified'



COVID-19: U.K. bans flights from South Africa, some neighbouring countries after variant identified


COVID-19: U.K. bans flights from South Africa, some neighbouring countries after variant identified
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The new variant, called Omicron, was dubbed a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Friday afternoon. It has spooked countries around the world since the announcement of its discovery on Thursday.

Great Britain, India, Japan, Israel and European Union nations are among those imposing travel bans Friday on several southern African nations, where the mutation was discovered. It is unclear where it originated.

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The variant, also known as B.1.1.529, has so far been detected in South Africa and Botswana, as well as in Israel, Belgium and Hong Kong.

South African scientists said Thursday that the variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.

But the data is considered preliminary. Scientists are not sure whether the mutation is more deadly, if it will be more dominant that the highly contagious Delta variant, and if it can, in fact, evade current COVID-19 vaccines in circulation.


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In South Africa, data shows COVID-19 cases rising. More than 1,200 were reported on Wednesday and 2,465 on Thursday. This comes after weeks of the country seeing a much smaller daily case rate – around 200, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa said Thursday.

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South Africa has a full vaccination rate of roughly 35 per cent.

On Friday morning, the WHO met to discuss the variant, and said it would take weeks to determine how effective vaccines are against the variant and how transmissible it is. However, it said in a news release Friday afternoon that preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant.

The WHO also said the first known Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on Nov. 9. It became aware of the variant from South African officials on Wednesday.

Read more:
New COVID-19 variant has nations stopping air travel from southern Africa

Earlier on Friday, the WHO also warned against travel restrictions right now, though many countries are ignoring that advice.

“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told a UN briefing. “The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing (curbs).”

Later Friday afternoon, the Associated Press reported the United States will ban travel from South Africa and seven other African nations by non-US citizens beginning Monday.

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However, one epidemiologist in Hong Kong told Reuters it may be too late to tighten travel curbs.

“Most likely this virus is already in other places. And so if we shut the door now, it’s going to be probably too late,” said Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong.

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On Friday, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole and Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on the Trudeau government to update existing travel advisories for affected countries.

COVID-19 has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting almost 260 million people and killing 5.4 million, Reuters reports.

— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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