‘Now is not the time’: Federal government warns against overseas travel as Omicron spreads
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is asking Canadians planning to travel abroad to cancel their trips as the highly transmissible variant of Omicron spreads around the world.
To prevent travel-related infections at a time of increasing cases, the federal government has changed its official guidelines to advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside the country at this time.
“To those who are planning to travel, I am saying very clearly – now is not the time to travel. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant globally makes us fear the worst,” said Duclos.
As tens of thousands of Canadians plan overseas trips in the coming weeks, the new advisory could wreak havoc on their vacation plans and void some travel insurance policies.
Acknowledging that the introduction of a new notice so close to Christmas is a “drastic” move, Duclos said he is acting now because he is “afraid” and “concerned” for people traveling abroad. because Omicron’s situation is changing rapidly. The rate of the spread is “huge,” he said, and Canadians could find themselves stranded if countries impose lockdowns or restrict inbound and outbound flights.
“The situation overseas is already dire in a lot of places and it’s going to get worse very quickly, so we’re worried about what might happen to them if they leave Canada,” said Duclos.
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In addition to the new travel advisory, Duclos said the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) will step up the mandatory arrival testing program at airports across the country. Duclos said last week that the federal government could process up to 17,000 arrival tests per day – it now promises to do more and “test as many travelers as possible.”
Last week, the federal government announced it would require inbound travelers from non-U.S. Foreign destinations to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada. This new test is in addition to the pre-departure molecular test that all travelers must undergo before leaving for Canada.
When asked whether the arrival testing program would be applied to people coming from the United States, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government “is constantly reassessing” the situation.
“When we feel we need to change our policies, we will announce it as quickly as possible. For now, we are monitoring it,” Alghabra said.
When asked if the government would consider reinstating the hotel quarantine program – an earlier initiative that required international air passengers to return to hotels while they wait for their test results after arrival – Duclos said that “all options are on the table”. For now, he said, the government is simply advising against travel, but other measures may follow soon.
With the current requirement for pre-departure testing and a vaccination warrant in place, data from PHAC suggests that very few returning travelers have actually tested positive for COVID-19.
Of the 232,835 arrival tests performed by fully vaccinated air passengers between September 10 and November 27, only 0.14% gave a positive result.
Although still low, the positivity rate of the 267,550 unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers who were tested was 0.63%, nearly five times the rate of vaccinated travelers.
When asked why the federal government is targeting travelers while allowing provinces and territories to conduct mass gatherings like indoor sporting events, Duclos said today’s measures are all focused on prudence “.
“Whether we like it or not, we have to adapt to this reality. We must stand together and do everything in our power to protect our health system and our frontline workers, ”he said.
WestJet, one of the country’s largest airlines, strongly condemned the new travel advisory in a press release Wednesday, saying the government’s decision is “not based on science and data.”
“Air transportation is the most tested and protected consumer activity in Canada. Every person traveling abroad is tested an average of twice during their trip, ”said Harry Taylor, president and CEO of the airline.
As the only fully vaccinated airline industry in the world, WestJet is calling on the government to publicly share the COVID-19 travel-related data that has been used to re-impose advisories and advice targeting fully vaccinated Canadians and industry. travel and tourism. “
Taylor said “fully vaccinated Canadians should not be singled out” by the government for choosing to participate in “safe activity.” He also said the travel advisory, coming just 10 days before Christmas, would cause “unnecessary disruption” and “chaos” in the travel industry.
Last Christmas season – when the government implemented a similar travel advisory and vaccines were scarce – a number of federal and provincial politicians were publicly criticized for traveling abroad.
A spokesperson for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Wednesday that party caucus members would be allowed to travel abroad this year because the government only issued an advisory and not a “ban.” outright travel abroad.
“This is an advisory that helps vaccinated Canadians make informed travel choices. This applies to members of Parliament and to all Canadians. As such, members of the Conservative caucus can continue to travel abroad, ”said Josie Sabatino.
Sabinto said that before the last advisory was lifted in October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some of his ministers traveled abroad ten times.
In an interview, Liberal Government House Leader Mark Holland said MPs from his party were ordered not to travel abroad while the advisory was in place. He called the Conservatives’ position on the opinion “completely irresponsible”.
Rachel Blaney, NDP whip, said party MPs have been urged to heed government warnings and avoid all non-essential international travel.
“Canadians are tired and understandably disappointed that we are not yet out of the pandemic, but it is more important than ever to follow public health advice to ensure their mutual safety,” said Blaney. “Canadians expect elected officials to lead by example by following the rules.
Speaking briefly to reporters earlier, Trudeau said Canadians need to be careful when planning the vacation.
“Canadians have been paying attention [to COVID-19] for months and months. We have seen that people know how to do the right thing. They are going to have to be vigilant and make careful decisions about Christmas, “Trudeau said in French.
Tune in to CBC’s The National tonight for a full special edition on COVID-19 and the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant in Canada and around the world. What do you need to know to protect yourself and those around you? Should you change your vacation plans? What is safe and what is not? Adrienne Arsenault and Andrew Chang will be joined by doctors and health experts throughout the program to answer your questions. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to tune in to The National tonight at 9 p.m. on CBC News Network, 10 p.m. on CBC Television and CBC Gem.