Feds advise against non-essential international travel amid Omicron case surge
The federal government is again advising against non-essential foreign travel as COVID-19 cases rise in Canada and the threat of the Omicron variant of concern mounts.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos made the announcement Wednesday in a joint press conference with other ministers and public health officials.
“To those who are planning to travel, I say very clearly, now is not the time to travel. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst for Canadians that may think of travelling,” he said.
Duclos said the travel measure will be in place for four weeks, at which point the government will reassess the epidemiological situation.
“We know that this may sound very drastic to many listening, but we must avoid overloading our hospital system and our health-care workers,” he said.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Monday there is community transmission of the Omicron variant in Canada and cases have the potential to “rapidly escalate.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reported last Friday that should Omicron spread continue at its current rate, Canadians could expect to see 12,000 cases a day by mid-January.
“The epidemiological situation is changing rapidly; the information currently available suggests a significant resurgence of infections,” said Duclos.
Conservative MP and transport critic Melissa Lantsman told CTV News Channel’s Power Play the new advisory is a “failure” of the Liberal government.
“The conversation of underutilized resources that we have within our public health toolbox is the fault of the Liberals and that’s why were seeing this advisory so close to Christmas,” she said.
The government said they will continue increase testing capacity at the border, and will have more to say on that “soon.”
Currently, fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning home after short trips of 72 hours or less to the United States and abroad do not have to provide proof of a negative molecular test, such as a PCR test.
For longer trips, anyone coming into Canada from international locations is required to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their scheduled departure in order to board the aircraft and to avoid a potential 14-day quarantine when they arrive.
NDP MP and health critic Don Davies said the government should consider tightening border restrictions for non-Canadians seeking to enter the country.
“The Liberals are telling Canadians do not travel, say to the United States for non-essential reasons but Americans can pour in across our border for non-essential reasons. That makes no sense. I don’t understand how that’s going to keep us safe at all,” he said.
Duclos said that following a conversation Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had with premiers last night, more rapid tests are also being deployed to provinces and territories.
“Deliveries for December have already started…an additional 35 million tests are being delivered to provinces and territories, the majority of which have already been received,” the health minister said.
The government also pledged to allocate $1.7 billion to Health Canada and PHAC to help secure rapid tests and the supplies needed to administer them, as detailed in their economic and fiscal update Tuesday.
Duclos said 16 million COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are already available in Canada, with “many more” coming over the next few weeks.
“Our window of opportunity is small, but we have the power to change the course collectively and individually, we all have a role to play,” he said.
Provinces and territories are taking their own approaches to the administration of booster shots. Many are moving up timelines as Omicron continues to spread quickly.
In a year-end interview with CTV News’ Evan Solomon, airing in full on CTV’s Question Period this Sunday at 11 a.m. EST, Trudeau said the government has procured enough booster supply to inoculate all Canadians but offered no insight on a specific timeline for when the doses would arrive in Canada.
“There are commitments to have the boosters in Canada as soon as we need them. We have enough boosters for everyone,” he said, stipulating that if by tomorrow the entire eligible population requested a booster, “we wouldn’t be able to deliver them into 26 million arms.”
Speaking to reporters later in the day Wednesday, Trudeau said he understands the current situation “sucks” heading into the holidays.
“Nobody wants to see Omicron arriving, nobody wants to see the level of communicability we’re seeing in communities, in provinces right across the country. This is not what anyone wanted for our Christmas holidays. Not much in the last year has been what anyone wanted,” he said.
With a file from CTV News’ Mackenzie Gray.