New Omicron variant restrictions affect travel to Canada

Updated: Dec 16, 2021 | Tags: Canada Travel Restrictions, COVID-19

Safety measures required to deal with the global coronavirus pandemic have affected many areas of life in Canada. One of these areas has been travel; restrictions on international travel lasted well over a year and have only begun to relax in recent months. However, recent events suggest that restrictions on travel may not be as much a thing of the past as previously thought.

The spread of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus, first identified in South Africa, has caused concern among health officials around the world. Although further research is needed, there is some evidence to suggest that the variant may be easier to transmit than the Delta variant, which is currently prevalent worldwide. New variants like Omicron develop as the virus mutates, especially in areas of the world that lack the same level of access to vaccines common in industrialised Western nations. In an effort to respond quickly to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, Canada has imposed new travel restrictions on those entering the country from affected areas.

African travel restrictions

Following the identification of the Omicron variant, the government has banned non-Canadians from arriving in Canada from 10 nations where the variant is believed to be widespread. Foreign nationals who have been in Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria or South Africa within the past 14 days will not be permitted to enter Canada.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been in one of the listed countries will still be able to return to Canada. However, they will be required to take a Covid-19 test before re-entering the country. The test cannot be taken in one of the listed countries but must be administered in a third country. The only exception is South Africa. Canadians flying to Canada via Frankfurt from Cape Town or Johannesburg will be able to get their test at an accredited laboratory in South Africa as long as they are flying on or before 13 December. This exception was created in response to complaints from Canadian travellers in South Africa who argued that the testing restriction made it impossible for them to return to Canada.

In addition to these limits, travellers arriving from one of the restricted countries will have to isolate and take up to two Covid-19 tests after arriving in Canada. Travellers who receive a positive test will have to isolate for 10 days, while those who test negative will take a second test on their eighth day in the country. If this second test is negative, the quarantine will end on day 14, while travellers who receive a positive result must begin a 10-day isolation period.

Restrictions on travel from other countries

Although the restrictions on travel from the 10 African countries are the most serious, travel precautions do exist for visitors arriving from other countries. Travellers who have received an approved vaccine need to take a test on entering the country and isolate until they receive the results. If the results are negative, they can end their isolation; if they are positive, they must isolate for another 10 days. Unvaccinated arrivals must also take a test, but have a quarantine period even if the test is negative.

One important exception to these travel rules is the United States. Arrivals from the US only need to comply with the existing travel rules. This is an important exception because travellers from the US make up the vast majority of foreign visitors to Canada. Pre-Covid, visitors from Canada's southern neighbour outnumbered visitors from all other countries combined, and even during the travel restrictions of 2020, nearly 2 million Americans visited Canada.

An ever-changing future

The future development of the Omicron variant remains uncertain. Its spread may lead the government to increase travel restrictions to other countries. Alternatively, existing precautions may be enough to limit its harm and the enhanced restrictions on African countries may be removed.

But while it's difficult to predict the course that this specific travel restriction will take, we can draw some conclusions from the government's response to the identification of Omicron. For the foreseeable future, targeted, temporary restrictions like these ones may be a common response to Covid-19 outbreaks or new variants. Rather than assuming that changes in travel rules will be rare, travellers need to be alert to the possibility that a rapidly-developing situation could produce new regulations on short notice. c