New COVID-19 variant of “concern” and travel restrictions for foreign nationals and Canadians.
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a new variant of concern named Omicron. The variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Wednesday.
“Omicron, B.1.1.529, is named as a variant of concern because it has some concerning properties,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said via Twitter. “This variant has a large number of mutations, and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics.”
According to WHO, the first confirmed case of Omicron was from a specimen collected on November 9. It was identified in South Africa’s Gauteng province but has quickly spread throughout the country.
A statement from WHO on Friday said, “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.”
The new variant caused Ottawa to quickly place travel restrictions on seven countries in the southern region of Africa.
The countries affected by the travel rules are South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Ottawa’s five new travel restrictions at a conference on Friday.
- Foreign Nationals who have travelled to any of the counties listed above in the last 14 days are not permitted to enter Canada.
- Those who have arrived in Canada in the past 14 days from those same countries need to quarantine until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
- Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are currently in those countries can return home. However, upon arrival, they are required to take a COVID-19 test and wait for results at a hotel. If the test is negative, they can continue their 14-day quarantine at home. On the eighth day of quarantine, they must take another COVID-19 test.
- As there are no direct flights from those countries to Canada, Canadians returning must be tested in the last country they transit through before returning home.
- Global Affairs Canada is asking Canadians not to travel to southern Africa for the time being.