Ontario Premier Doug Ford called for stronger border measures Friday after the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant of concern in southern Africa — including some measures that the feds then moved to implement hours later.
Ford said he has also called for increased virus surveillance in Ontario.
The premier said in a statement Friday morning that after being briefed by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, about the new variant “that early reports suggest could be vaccine resistant,” he contacted the federal government to express “extreme concern about the risk it poses and the need for immediate action.”
“We cannot repeat the same mistakes that allowed the Alpha and Delta variants to enter our country. Our best defence right now is stopping this variant at the border,” Ford said.
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“Until we can be certain that the vaccines are effective against this new variant, I am calling on the Government of Canada to follow other governments by immediately banning all flights and passengers from countries of concern.”
The premier also said that anyone who arrived before the implementation of a travel ban should be tested and quarantined.
A few hours later, the Canadian government moved to implement several new measures, including a travel ban on several south African countries.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said foreign nationals who have travelled through southern Africa in the past 14 days won’t be allowed into Canada.
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All those who have arrived in Canada in the last 14 days will have to get tested for the virus and quarantine until they receive a negative result.
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Canadian citizens and permanent residents coming from those countries must take a COVID-19 test before they return, and will need to quarantine at a designated hotel until they receive a negative result.
Affected countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
But Ford also called for point-of-arrival testing to be implemented for all passengers arriving in Canada “out of an abundance of caution,” regardless of their point of origin.
The federal government didn’t implement that measure Friday.
Those coming to Canada still currently need to provide proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test before entering the country, regardless of vaccination status. That rule doesn’t apply to fully-vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who take a short trip (less than 72 hours) out of Canada.
The premier also said he has requested that the province’s chief medical officer and Public Health Ontario “immediately implement expanded surveillance” and updating planning to “ensure we are ready for any outcome.”
Public Health Ontario said the province is tracking variants and monitoring for new ones, including B.1.1.529, and genomic sequencing is being done on 100 per cent of eligible virus samples.
On Thursday, South African scientists told reporters they detected a new variant — B.1.1.529 and recently named ‘Omicron’ by the World Health Organization — that has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
Britain, the European Union and Israel were among the other jurisdictions that first implemented travel bans as a result of the new variant.
— With files from Aaron D’Andrea, Reuters, and The Canadian Press
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