Doug Ford calls new COVID-19 variant concerning as Canada implements travel ban
TORONTO -- Canada is implementing travel restrictions on all flights from southern Africa for the next two months after a discovery of a new variant of concern.
The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
The announcement comes hours after Ontario Premier 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 released a statement in response to the B.1.1.529 variant detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
"I was just briefed by Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, about the new variant that’s been found in several countries in Africa that early reports suggest could be vaccine resistant. I have contacted the federal government to express my extreme concern about the risks it poses and the need for immediate action today," Ford said.
Ford asked the federal government to follow some other governments by “immediately banning all flights and passengers from countries of concern.”
“Anyone arriving before the ban is implemented should be tested and quarantined, including the many passengers arriving today. Out of an abundance of caution, we must also reintroduce point-of-arrival testing for all passengers arriving to Canada, regardless of where they’re coming from,” he said.
Ford also said that he 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 right now is stopping this variant at the border," Ford said.
Provincial officials said there have been roughly 9,000 travellers that have arrived in 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.
Infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital Dr. Isaac Bogoch said it’s too early to say how contagious the new variant is.
“You're going to hear a lot of scary things over the next day or two. But the truth is we just don't know enough about it. But we are going to learn a ton about this over the days and probably over the weeks to come,” he told CP24 on Friday.
Bogoch added that a travel ban on certain countries likely won’t stop the variant from spreading into a country but border restrictions could help slow down transmission.
“If you truly wanted to prevent something like this from coming into your country you need border restriction. I'm not saying by any means we should do this, I'm just telling you this is how you prevent something from coming into your country...border restrictions and quarantine, that's how you really slow down and potentially stop something from coming into your country,” he said.
On Thursday, South Africa’s health minister said the variant is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people.
Health officials in the United Kingdom have raised concerns about the effectiveness of vaccines that are currently available against the new variant.
A number of European nations have already announced that they are planning to stop air travel from southern Africa.
The World Health Organization's technical working group is meeting on Friday to discuss the new variant and possibly give it a name.
-With files from The Associated Press.