The federal government is urging Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel over the next month.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said that the travel advisory will last four weeks, initially, and then be reassessed. He said that the risk to travelling Canadians of catching the Omicron COVID-19 variant and then being stranded abroad is too high right now and that there will be little the federal government can do to help.
“We are asking Canadians to be cautious; if you don’t have to travel internationally, do not,” Duclos said during a press conference Wednesday (Dec. 15).
Canada had lifted its previous international travel advisory – which had been in place since March 2020 – in October, spurring some Canadians to make travel plans.
Duclos said that he knew the new advisory would be difficult for those individuals, as well as travel companies, and urged those travellers to cancel their trips unless they are essential.
The health minister’s comments add on to what has already been hinted at by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He met with all thirteen premiers on Tuesday evening to discuss measures to slow the spread of Omicron, including booster shots and rapid tests.
Chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam stopped short of creating rules for holiday gatherings, but said that increasing ventilation, making sure attendees are vaccinated and staying away when sick are key to a safer season.
The federal government already requires international air arrivals to test at their arrival airports and to isolate until results are known and has banned travellers who have visited 10 African countries in the past 14 days from entering Canada. Those travel bans apply to foreign nationals coming from Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa but cases and community transmission have been detected in dozens of countries around the world, including in Canada.
Duclos also called on all provinces to ramp up booster doses. In B.C., booster doses are currently scheduled for six to eight months after an individual’s second dose. However, Duclos said that guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) shows that six months may be too long.
There are 16 million booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Canada and Duclos said enough will arrive in the coming weeks for all Canadians who need one.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that the federal government has paid 1.7 billion to purchase 180 million rapid tests, which will be distributed to the provinces and territories free of charge.