All travellers will once again need a molecular COVID-19 test before arriving in Canada
The federal government announced Friday it is ending the ban on flights from 10 African countries, a measure that garnered criticism for needlessly punishing countries even though Omicron is already spreading in Canada.
The ban, which covered flights from South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt, will be no longer in effect as of Dec. 18. While many of those countries do not have direct flights to Canada, travellers can connect here through European and Mideast airports.
“While we recognize the controversial nature of such a prohibition, we believe it was a necessary measure to slow the arrival of Omicron in Canada and buy us some time,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in prepared remarks. “Given the current situation, this measure has served its purpose and is no longer needed.”
Britain made a similar decision earlier this week, although the United States still has a travel ban in effect concerning several African countries.
African scientists said such moves had, in effect, punished countries for being transparent and proactive with concerning new variants, while the World Health Organization has said bans could hinder the movement of needed virus samples and supplies for developing countries.
Canada banned flights for seven African countries exactly three weeks ago, adding three more to the list a few days later.
The federal government also said Friday that starting Dec. 21, all international travellers will once again need to get a COVID-19 molecular test before returning to Canada. The announcement rolls back an exemption announced last month that fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents taking short trips abroad, under 72 hours, wouldn’t need proof of a negative test before returning home.
“As of Dec. 21, the requirement for pre-arrival testing will be in place again for trips of all duration,” said Duclos, adding the pre-arrival tests must be taken outside Canada.
Duclos said the government has expanded capacity to also test arrivals at Canadian airports, increasing it from testing 11,000 air travellers a day on Nov. 30 to 20,960 tests as of Dec. 16, and plans on building up capacity at the land border as well.
From The National
Airline and hospitality sector winces again as new border rules clamp down on travel
Airline customers have been cancelling bookings by the thousands, Air Transport Association of Canada CEO John McKenna told CBC News this week in the wake of the federal government warning against non-essential trips abroad because of alarming numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant and fresh travel restrictions have led to a spike in hotel booking cancellations globally, online hotel search firm Trivago said this week, threatening to upend a fragile recovery in tourism. Cancellation rates increased by 35 per cent since November, said Trivago, with most travellers going ahead with plans choosing domestic destinations.
Trivago said overall activity around holiday travel planning has slowed, growing by just four per cent from average levels since the Omicron variant was discovered. By comparison, Christmas travel increased by 34.7 per cent in the same one-to-two-week period in 2019, the company says.
“They’re cancelling because they don’t know what to expect when they come back,” said McKenna. “I think they’re more afraid of the bureaucracy than of Omicron.”
Comments like that reflect the frustration of leaders in an industry battered by the two-year toll of the pandemic. Canada had only downshifted from its recommendation against nonessential international travel a couple of months ago as the Delta variant-inspired wave subsided with robust vaccination levels.
“To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly, now is not the time to travel,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos Wednesday.
Within just a few hours, WestJet CEO Harry Taylor challenged that advisory in a statement. Taylor claimed the warning is “not based on science and data,” and called on the federal government to publicly share the COVID-19 data that informed the advisory.
WestJet vice-president of government relations Andy Gibbons followed up in a phone interview with CBC News, noting that virtually no activity outside of international travel demands proof of a negative molecular test from fully vaccinated individuals.
While Omicron could upset the narrative, industry leaders point to statistics produced by the government’s own Public Health Agency of Canada that indicate the positivity rate among fully vaccinated travellers arriving by air has been negligible.
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies said the new advisory will have a “devastating impact” on its 14,000 agents, who depend on holiday travel to bolster business. The trade group is urging Ottawa to communicate advisories and border measures clearly and quickly on a single website and work more closely with industry.
Duclos on Friday defended new restrictions and layers of protection for international travel as being in the interest of public safety.
“We do not want you to be stranded or to be sick abroad, he said. “Once you leave the country … there is little the Canadian government can do to help you.”
Manitoba kids part of clinical trial for Moderna’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine
A group of roughly 20 Manitoba kids is part of a clinical trial looking at the safety and efficacy of Moderna’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Sergio Fanella, an associate professor of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Manitoba and the principal investigator for the study in Winnipeg, says the Moderna dose in the trial is smaller than that given to teens and adults.
The Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, where Fanella is a researcher, is one of more than 80 sites participating in Canada and the United States, he said. Moderna estimates more than 13,000 kids are enrolled in the study, with all of the Manitoba participants under the age of six.
The children will be monitored for about 14 months after getting their first dose.
“They’re doing something not only for themselves but something that benefits their extended family, their grandparents, their friends, their neighbours, their local community, but also the global population,” said Fanella.
COVID-19 vaccines have not been approved for those under five in North America. As well, Health Canada has only approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children kids aged five to 11, although Moderna is seeking that authorization.
It’s not clear what the uptake would look like if a vaccine for those under five is approved. Public surveys indicated a higher level of hesitancy among parents for vaccinating their kids five-to-11 than those over 12.
Health Canada data that puts all children under 11 in the same bucket reveals the following: Canadians under 11 have accounted for 217,000 cases in this pandemic, for 12 per cent of the total, but have accounted for 1,147, or 1.2 per cent of total Canadian cases, with 137 intensive care admissions (less than one per cent). Sadly, the deaths of 11 children have been attributed to COVID-19.
While the youngest of kids experience less frequency of severe COVID-19 disease than older age groups, University of Manitoba virologist Jason Kindrachuk stresses that experts can’t anticipate whether new variants that emerge could end up causing more severe illness, so pediatric vaccines are important.
“We need to be able to make that available not only to the rest of the global population, but also to those age groups that have yet to be able to be protected and are directly in the line of fire for this virus,” he said. Separately, Pfizer announced Friday a setback in its trial involving children under five that will necessitate studying a three-dose regimen instead of two.
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