COVID-19 Omicron travel rule change: Canada to lift flight ban for 10 African countries, pre-arrival COVID-19 testing needed for all trips

·3 min read
International travelers wearing face masks walk with their luggage carts to a COVID-19 testing site after arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on Nov. 28, 2021. Two people in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to the Ontario provincial government on Sunday. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images) (Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images)

The Canadian government announced Friday that the existing flight ban for foreign nationals coming to Canada from 10 southern African countries will be lifted on Saturday.

These countries are: Nigeria, Malawi, Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia.

"While we recognize that this emergency measure created controversy, we believe it was a necessary measures to slow the arrival of Omicron in Canada at the time of uncertainty," health minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a press conference on Friday.

"This measure has served its purpose and is no longer necessary."

The Bluewater Bridge spanning the St. Clair River connects Sarnia Ontario, Canada, to Port Huron Michigan, USA.
The Bluewater Bridge spanning the St. Clair River connects Sarnia Ontario, Canada, to Port Huron Michigan, USA.

Pre-arrival COVID-19 test also needed for trips under 72 hours

Duclos also announced that the federal government is reintroducing the requirement of proof of a negative pre-arrival COVID-19 PCR test for all travellers returning to Canada, including trips that are under 72 hours to the U.S., as of Dec. 21. This test needs to be taken in a country other than Canada.

When asked about the effectiveness of this pre-arrival testing at catching COVID-19 cases, particularly for short trip, the health minister said "there is no perfect measure" but its the combination of measures that "brings us closer to a perfect system."

"It’s an additional layer to protect the health and safety of those that are travelling and those that will be exposed to them once these people come back to the country," Duclos said.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, added that it does take some time for incubation period to occur after an individual catches COVID-19, but the information available to date shows that the incubation period for the Omicron variant may be shorter than other variants.

Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, stressed that Canadians should "think carefully" about why they are going to the United States for any trip, even for a short time.

"I think there’s a big difference in terms of the potential risk of being exposed to the virus if, say you’re crossing the border quickly to pick up some groceries or to get some cheap gas, as opposed to planning to go across for a tailgating party at a football game and then going bar hoping," Dr. Njoo said. "You need to think carefully about the kinds of activities, what you would be doing in the U.S."

'Adjust your holiday plans'

Dr. Tam stressed that as we try to "protect our already strained and fragile healthcare system" and our "profoundly exhausted healthcare workforce" that is facing a "looming crisis," Canadians need to reconsider their holiday plans.

"I am urging Canadians across the country to please carefully consider and adjust your holiday plans to minimize risk, and maximize layers and quality of protection for you and yours," she said.

"If Omicron replaces Delta, it’s expected the sheer number of cases could inundate the health system in a very short period of time."