Omicron variant: Canada expands travel ban, seeks booster guidance – Global News

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Canada is restricting travel from three more African countries and seeking guidance on COVID-19 boosters amid the emergence of the Omicron variant. 
In a press conference on Tuesday, Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt who have been to those countries over the past two weeks will not be able to enter Canada. This adds to the seven other African countries barred by Canada on Friday: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Canadians and permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada, who have transited through these countries over the past two weeks, will have to quarantine, be tested at the airport, and await their test results before exiting quarantine, Duclos said.
Read more: Omicron: How does it compare with other COVID-19 variants of concern?
The testing requirement for Canadians and permanent residents will apply even if they are fully vaccinated, said Transport Minister Omar Alghbara. COVID-19 tests administered in the 10 listed countries will not be accepted, he said.
“Canadians will need to stop and obtain valid results in a third country before entering Canada,” Alghbara added.
The testing requirement will also be broadened, ministers said, and will now include anyone coming into Canada from a foreign country aside from the United States.
Those travellers will need to be tested on arrival at the airport, isolate and wait, until their test result is known before exiting their isolation period, Duclos said.
Read more: Omicron and travel: What new restrictions mean for refunds and insurance
The on-arrival test, which will be paid for by the federal government, is in addition to the pre-departure test before arriving in Canada, said Duclos.
The rules for unvaccinated travellers remain the same, he added, meaning they will continue to be get tested upon arrival, then on day eight and will quarantine for 14 days.
“We are taking quick action at our borders to mitigate travel related importations of the Omicron variant,” Duclos said.
The border measures will enable Canada more time to better understand the new variant in terms of its transmissibility, severity of illness and impact on vaccine efficiency, said Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer.
“We don’t have those answers yet, but scientists around the world are working closely to find those answers,” he said.
“So right now these measures are just to slow down the propagation of the virus.”
The National Airlines Council of Canada said it will move rapidly to implement the new measures announced by the federal government, but expressed concern over the economic uncertainty facing the aviation sector as result of the new variant.
“It is expected the new measures will be adjusted as further study is carried out on the variant, and that the impact on the relaunch of the travel and tourism sector will be manageable,” said Mike McNaney, president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest air carriers, in a statement Tuesday.
Travel restrictions are not the only thing top of mind for Canadian officials now that Omicron cases are cropping up across the country. The Canadian government is also asking National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to quickly provide the latest directives on the use of boosters in the context of the new Omicron variant.
“This call that we’re making is to ask NACI to provide quick guidance on whether we should revise national standards, national attitudes and actions on the use of boosters across Canada in the context of the new Omicron variant,” Duclos said.
Read more: Will COVID-19 booster shots protect against the Omicron variant? Experts undecided
So far, NACI has recommended booster shots for seniors, front-line healthcare workers, long-term care residents and other high-risk groups.
Health Canada has recently approved both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all adults over 18 years old, but NACI has not yet recommended booster shots to the general population.
A third dose for those 18 years of age and older has been approved in Manitoba, whereas Ontario has approved it for those 70 and older, health-care workers and essential caregivers in congregate settings, as well as those who received two shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine and Indigenous residents.
Ontario is looking at a broad timeline of after January 2022 (around six months after a second dose) if boosters do become recommended based on vaccine effectiveness and data.
Quebec also recently expanded eligibility for those 70 and older and the Yukon, where cases are surging, is making it available for those 50 and over.
Several vaccine makers have already announced that they were examining ways to further enhance or change their drugs to target the rapidly spreading variant.
AstraZeneca said it would be looking at the variant’s impact on its vaccine and antibody cocktail and Pfizer-BioNTech said they expect to be able to produce a new vaccine tailored to match the Omicron.
Moderna, on the other hand, said it was working on a booster candidate suited to counter the new variant, while Novavax said it had already started to work on its version of a vaccine against it.
As of Tuesday, Canada had confirmed seven cases of the Omicron variant: four in Ontario and one each in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.
Omicron is the fifth and latest variant of concern designated by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Read more: Moderna CEO says COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against Omicron variant
This variant is more heavily mutated than the other variants of concern, containing more than 30 mutations, which scientists fear might help it spread easily or even evade antibodies from prior infection or vaccination.
The WHO has warned that the Omicron COVID-19 poses a “very high” risk of infection surges that could have “severe consequences” in some places, though further research was needed to assess its potential impact.
— with files from Rachael D’Amore, Eric Stober and David Lao
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