Federal officials introduced new measures in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant in Canada.
Canada will be lifting travel bans on the 10 African countries where Omicron was first detected. The bans will lift on December 18. In addition, they are reintroducing pre-entry PCR tests for all travellers returning to Canada after short trips. This will go into effect on December 21.
Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal minister of health, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, and Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, made the announcement on Friday morning.
“We are reintroducing the requirement for a pre-arrival PCR test results for all travellers, leaving the country for less than 72 hours,” Duclos said at the press conference.
He added that arrival testing has been quickly ramped up across the country and is nearing its target.
“We have gone from a capacity to test 11,000 air travellers a day on November 30 to [a] capacity of 17,000 last Friday to a capacity of 21,000 today, out of a goal of 23,000,” he said.
Dr. Tam told reporters that Omicron had been detected in Canadians who have not had recent travel, indicating it is spreading through communities.
“Community transmission has been established in several areas of the country, with outbreaks occurring in multiple settings,” Dr. Tam said.
She said that Omicron is already contributing to rising cases across the country, and the variant has been detected in 11 provinces and territories so far.
“Over the past seven days, an average of over 5,000 new cases were reported daily across Canada, which is 45% higher than the previous seven-day period,” she said.
In light of a potential looming crisis, exhausted healthcare workers, and a fragile healthcare system, Dr. Tam asked Canadians to think carefully about their holiday plans.
“I am urging Canadians across the country to please carefully consider and adjust your holiday plans to minimize risks and maximize layers and quality of protection for you and yours,” Dr. Tam said.
Duclos, Dr. Tam and Njoo acknowledged that this has been difficult for Canadians and that people are tired. They encouraged Canadians to get their first, second and third doses, to wear properly fitting masks and follow all public health measures to help curb the spread.
“I know we are all weary, but as all storms run out of wind and rain, so too will this one,” Dr. Tam said.