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Feds warn Canadians against ‘non-essential’ international travel amid escalating COVID-19 infections

Wednesday, December 15, 2021 @ 4:28 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

With the holiday season fast approaching and omicron-variant COVID-19 infections expected to surge, Ottawa is warning Canadians against “non-essential” international travel for at least the next four weeks and is signalling that increased border testing measures could be imminent.

Accompanied by the federal ministers of Finance, Intergovernmental Affairs and Transport, as well senior doctors from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Theresa Tam and Howard Njoo, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told an Ottawa news conference Dec. 15 that governments and individual Canadians must let “prudence” be their watchword as the latest modelling paints a grim picture of resurgent COVID-19 infections in Canada, even apart from the new variant.

“We now know that community transmission is present in Canada and across the globe and, in some circumstances, [is spreading] extremely rapidly,” Duclos told reporters. “Whether we like it or not, we must therefore adjust to this reality. We must stand together, and do everything in our power to protect our health-care system and our frontline health-care workers … [who have been] on the front lines for us for the last 21 months and, like all of us, they are tired [of] the pandemic. It is now up to us to protect them.”

“Now is not the time to travel,” Duclos warned. “The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on the global scale makes us fear the worst for Canadians that may think of travelling. Travelling Canadians could contract the virus or get stranded abroad.”

The government issued a travel advisory Dec. 15 which includes as well an admonition that Canadians should continue to avoid all cruise ship travel outside Canada.

Duclos said the advisory will remain in place for four weeks, at which point the situation will be assessed again.

He noted Canada is expanding its testing capacity at airports to test as many travellers as possible, as quickly as possible — about which he said the government will have more to say “in the very near future.”

He added that Canada needs to ramp up its administration of booster vaccine doses and expand its use of rapid tests. In addition to the millions of tests the federal government has already distributed to the provinces and territories, in December an additional 35 million are being delivered.

Sixteen million vaccine booster doses are also in stock and available, and “many more” are coming over the next few weeks, Duclos said.

He said that there are enough booster shots in hand to keep up with the accelerating booster rollout. “We have ample capacity to give booster shots to Canadians over the next weeks and months.”

When asked whether Ottawa might reinstate the COVID-19 testing requirements for Canadians travelling to the United States for up to 72 hours, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra replied “given how fast … evolving the situation is, we are constantly reassessing. So when we feel [we] need to change our policies, we will announce it as quickly as possible. But for now we are monitoring it and assessing it.”

Asked what evidence the government has that an advisory ban on non-essential international travel will impact community transmission of COVID-19 and the overloading hospitals and the health care system, Duclos responded that the COVID-19 situation is already “dire” in many countries. The government wants to alert Canadians that if they travel abroad they face risks. “Once they have left Canada there is very little we can do to help them,” he explained. “We are advising them strongly not to travel for non-essential reasons.”

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