Canada’s Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says travel abroad is “risky and unstable” due to the arrival of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and, as a result, travellers returning to Canada could face “delays and hassle.”
But the Canadian government’s official COVID-19 travel advice, which allows fully vaccinated people to travel for non-essential purposes, remains unchanged.
"Things are happening very quickly outside of Canada,” Minister Duclos told reporters on Friday (Dec. 10). “So if you think of travelling, that should be a serious alarm bell.”
The Health Minister’s advice for those who are packing their bags anyways?
“You need to plan ahead, be prepared for airport delays, have a quarantine plan,” Duclos said. “You should also be prepared for officials to follow up with you to make sure your COVID testing is complete.”
The “testing” the Minister referred to – a new on-arrival test-and-isolate rule for air travellers arriving in Canada from outside of the United States that officials announced two weeks ago – has not been fully implemented yet in Canada’s airports.
The protocol requires travellers to undergo a COVID-19 test on arrival and then quarantine in a suitable place until they receive their results.
“They may take public transportation (for example, connecting flights) to their place of quarantine,” reads a notice on the Government of Canada’s website.
Minister Duclos, on Friday, said the government can now test just under three-quarters of arrivals into Canada (although, testing at airports is nothing new. Random screening at airports has been happening for several months now).
Duclos also urged travellers to use the ArriveCAN app to submit their information before arriving at the Canadian border, despite Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announcing some leniency around using the application earlier this week, implying that travellers can skip the app and provide their details in person, at the border, instead.
It is unclear how "official" Mendicino's announcement was as the Government of Canada's website still warns of fines and consequences for not using the app.
“Measures could change at any time"
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, appearing on CBC’s radio show The Current on Tuesday (Dec. 7), said the government is working with health officials, airports, and the CBSA to implement COVID-19 testing for all arrivals “as efficiently as possible.”
“We are ramping up to get to 100 percent collaboratively with the airports,” Alghabra told CBC host Matt Galloway.
As to why Ottawa announced mandatory airport testing without finalizing the details, Alghabra had this to say:
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions about this variant, and if we waited for perfection to get all the answers, we would have been too late.”
“That's why we've acted with a system of layers of protective measures, and part of those measures are testing at the borders, including airports.”
Alghabra, in the same interview, didn’t specifically tell Canadians to avoid travel this winter season, but warned that “measures could change at any time.
“Exercise extra caution"
Canada, yesterday, recorded 87 COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant and almost all cases have been reported as asymptomatic or mild.
“The Omicron variant of concern is a cruel reminder that a global epidemiological situation can change quickly. We all need to be prepared for that as well,” Duclos said Friday,
Other fresh travel restrictions that Ottawa has unveiled includes barring entry to people who have recently been in 10 southern African countries.
Chief Medical officer Theresa Tam said Friday that Canada is already starting to see increases in COVID-19 cases.
Ontario, on Saturday (Dec. 11), reported 1,607 new cases of the virus, representing the highest number of daily reported cases in nearly seven months.
Meanwhile, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said Friday that all Ontario adults who are at least six months past their second doses will be eligible for booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines starting Jan. 4, 2022.
The Omicron variant has been reported in 57 nations, Reuters reports, and the Government of Canada’s official travel advice for fully vaccinated people, as of Dec. 11, is for Canadians to “exercise extra caution.”
“Be sure to check for information on the presence of this new variant at your destination, which could impact your ability to return to Canada,” reads a statement posted on the government’s website.