Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that the federal government may need to address concerns about the Omicron variant, which was first confirmed in Canada on Sunday.
There are now five confirmed cases – four in Ontario and one in Quebec – and health officials are investigating other possible cases.
Speaking outside a cabinet meeting, Mr Trudeau said his government was watching the situation “very closely” with regard to the new version. He said the country already has measures in place but Ottawa “could be more” and is being watched very carefully.
On Friday, the federal government said it would ban travel from countries in southern Africa, banning all foreign nationals who had traveled there in the past 14 days. Ottawa also said it would require anyone who has done so and is already in Canada, to go into quarantine immediately.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Transport Minister Omar Alghabara made the announcement after the World Health Organization designated a new coronavirus variant as a type of concern.
There are many unknowns regarding the new version, such as how permeable it might be. Public health experts have said they will watch the next days and weeks very closely to gather further information.
The Omicron COVID-19 variant is of global concern. Here’s everything you need to know
Why scientists in the new COVID-19 variant Omicron are on alert. And how is Canada reacting to it?
Scientists have expressed concern about Omicron because it has a number of mutations, including several on the spike protein, which some fear could make it more permeable or better able to survive vaccines.
The World Health Organization says the risk of further spread is high and could have serious consequences for some countries, especially those with relatively low vaccination rates. The new version of the virus has emerged in at least 16 countries, including Canada, since it was first detected by scientists in South Africa last week.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Tuesday that Omicron is a sort of concern, which means the government is tracking it “extremely closely”. He said the government would also follow the scientific and medical advice that is being given to the government “in real time.”
“This evidence will inform every decision we make at the border and in our communities,” he said. The way we have taken these decisions during the pandemic is a hallmark of it and will continue to be.”
Ministers and government officials are expected to hold a news conference at 4:00 p.m. EST to provide an update on the situation.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Tuesday that instead of banning flights, a more science-based approach involving advanced testing and quarantine measures, adding these devices has worked more effectively in other countries.
He said specific restrictions on flights do not seem to be an effective strategy to keep people safe.
“If it doesn’t work, why are we doing this?” He said the flight ban will not help the global fight against COVID-19.
Mr Singh also said Canada needs to waive vaccine patent protections to allow countries that need to produce more vaccines to do so, adding that the interests of large pharmaceutical companies will be jeopardized. should not be given priority.
South Africa’s envoy in Ottawa is also calling on Canada to support a waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines as his country grapples with the fallout from Omicron’s discovery.
South African High Commissioner Sibongiseni Dlamini-Mantambo told The Canadian Press that the emergence of the Omicron variant is rooted in vaccine disparity, resulting in less than a quarter of his country being fully vaccinated.
He also criticized Canada’s ban on travel from southern African countries, as scientists discovered a new type of concern and reported it to the WHO.
With reports from Carly Weeks in Toronto, Paul Valdi in London and The Canadian Press.
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