Ottawa is officially now advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada.
The update was shared by Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos at a press conference on Wednesday (Dec. 15) following a meeting Tuesday evening (Dec. 14) between Canada’s premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Duclos said the COVID-19 health situation is changing rapidly in Canada as the country is seeing a significant resurgence of infections “even without taking into account of the new Omicron variant.”
“To those who are planning to travel, I must say very clearly, now is not the time to travel,” Duclos said.
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale “makes us fear the worst for Canadians” that may think of travelling.
“Travelling Canadians could contract the virus or get stranded abroad,” he said.
An official notice of the updated travel advisory will be posted on travel.gc.ca within the next few hours, he said.
In terms of arrival testing, the government will continue to expand capacity to “test as many travellers as possible,” Duclos said.
“We will have more to say on that in the near future.”
Set for 4 weeks
The non-essential travel advisory will be in place for four weeks, after which the government will review the situation.
“We know this may sound very drastic to many listening, but we must avoid overloading our hospital system and our health care workers. I know we are all tired of this pandemic, but I must call on the solidarity of all Canadians,” Duclos said.
While a non-essential travel advisory cannot stop Canadians from travelling abroad, it does impact consumer confidence, which directly impacts the travel industry and its economic recovery. It can impact insurance, too.
Duclos couldn't state what evidence is guiding the decision to ban non-essential travel, specifically in terms of how such a measure will prevent community spread.
"The situation abroad is dire in many places and it's going to get worse very quickly," he said. "Once [travellers] have left Canada, there is very little we can do to help them."
As for restricting interprovincial travel? "That would be for provinces and territories to assess," he said.
Duclos said the government is asking Canadians to "consider cancelling trips abroad" unless they are for essential reasons.
"We know this is difficult for airlines, for travel agencies, for families, for people who haven't been able to see each other for a long time. Who have been dreaming of getting together over the next few weeks."
The Minister said that things are getting "much more complicated, very quickly at a rate we couldn't have imagined a few weeks ago."
"We still know very little about the severity of Omicron in terms of the viral load, but what we do know is that the rate of spread is huge compared to Delta," he said, speaking in French.
So, are more measures coming?
"There will certainly be other measures because the situation will continue to evolve," Duclos said.
Contrary to rumours that began circulating yesterday, Canada, for now, will not be banning entry of foreign visitors.
Addressing this topic, Duclos said the government will do "what people expect us to do, which is monitor the situation, work in collaboration with the provinces and territories...because we want to do the right thing, at the right time. That's how we've worked over the past few months and that's what we'll continue to do."
"We will take the best action that we can with the information that's available to us."
Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, echoed the Health Minister's remarks.
“We are asking Canadians to be cautious heading into the holiday season,” he said. “If you do not have to travel internationally, please do not.”
Canada’s non-essential travel advisory was quietly lifted on Oct. 21 for fully-vaccinated Canadians, marking a return to country-specific risk assessments. The advisory to avoid all cruise travel, however, remained.
"Canadians have been attentive [to COVID-19] for months and months. We've seen that people know how to do the right thing. They're going to have to be vigilant and make careful decisions about Christmas," Trudeau said in French before the start of a Liberal caucus meeting this morning.
The Canadian Tourism Roundtable, a cross-Canadian coalition of leaders in the tourism and travel sector, issued a release on Wednesday, saying that "travel bans and border restrictions are ineffective tools to halt Omicron as the variant has already taken hold in Canada."
"Introducing additional and overly restrictive travel measures at this time is not rooted in science, does little to stop the spread of the Omicron variant in Canada and creates an enormous amount of harm to an industry already on its knees," the coalition said. "Closing borders and preventing travel is simply not the solution."
This is a developing story.