TORONTO – Canada is implement travel restrictions on all flights from South Africa for the next two months after the discovery of a new variant of concern.
The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland.
The announcement comes hours after Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford publicly called on Ottawa to ban all flights and passengers from countries that are linked to the newly discovered variant of concern found in Africa.
On Friday, Ford issued a statement in response to the Variant B.1.1.529 detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
“I was just informed by Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario Medical Director of Health, about the new variant that has been found in several countries in Africa that according to early reports may be resistant to vaccines. I have contacted him federal government to express my extreme concern about the risks it poses and the need for immediate action today, “said Ford.
Ford called on the federal government to follow other governments in “immediately banning all flights and passengers from countries of interest.”
“Anyone who arrives before the ban is implemented must be tested and quarantined, including the many passengers arriving today. As a precaution, we must also reintroduce testing at the point of arrival for all passengers arriving in Canada, no matter where they come from, ”he said.
Ford also said it has asked Public Health Ontario to implement expanded surveillance and update scenario planning in response to the new variant.
“We cannot repeat the same mistakes that allowed the Alpha and Delta variants to enter our country. Our best defense at this time is to stop this variant at the border,” Ford said.
Provincial officials said there have been approximately 9,000 travelers who have come to Canada from South Africa since June 2021, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Ford’s office declined to provide comment or an updated statement after the federal government announced the new travel restrictions.
Toronto General Hospital infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said it is too early to say how contagious the new variant is.
“You’re going to hear a lot of scary things in the next day or two. But the truth is, we don’t know enough about it. But we are going to learn a lot about this over the days and probably in the next few weeks, “he told CP24 on Friday.
Bogoch added that a travel ban in certain countries likely won’t prevent the variant from spreading to one country, but border restrictions could help slow transmission.
“If you really want to prevent something like this from entering your country, you need a border restriction. I’m not saying in any way that we should do this, I’m just telling you that this is how you prevent something from entering your country … border restrictions and quarantine, this is how you really slow down and potentially prevent something from coming. to his country, ”he said.
On Thursday, the South African health minister said the variant is a concern due to its high number of mutations and its rapid spread among young people.
Health officials in the UK have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccines that are currently available against the new variant.
Several European nations have already announced that they plan to stop air travel from southern Africa.
The World Health Organization technical working group will meet on Friday to discuss the new variant and possibly give it a name.
-With files from The Associated Press.