The federal government is lifting its widely criticized travel ban on 10 African countries and reimposing its requirement for Canadians taking short trips abroad to get a COVID-19 test before returning to Canada.
The 10-country travel ban was brought in when the Omicron variant was first identified but kept in place even after community spread started domestically.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced at a Friday press conference in Ottawa that the ban would be lifted effective Dec. 18 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
At the same time Canada is bringing back its requirement for Canadians and permanent residents who travel abroad for less than 72 hours to get a negative COVID-19 test before returning to Canada. That rule was dropped in November amid pushback from business, tourism, and travel groups.
Mr. Duclos said the pre-entry testing requirement for short trips abroad will take effect on Dec. 21 and travellers must take the test in a country other than Canada.
Once the rule takes effect, all travellers will again be required to take a molecular COVID-19 test and present a negative test result within 72 hours of travelling. The most commonly referred to test that Canada accepts is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Canada also accepts the nucleic acid test (NAT) or nucleic acid amplification test (NAATs) and the reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) test.
Omicron has already been detected in 77 countries and is likely already in most other countries, even if not detected yet, said Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam, calling it the “most rapidly spreading variant to date.”
On Wednesday, the federal government also reintroduced its advisory against non-essential travel for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Dr. Tam warned Canadians who do travel to “be aware of current and rapidly evolving requirements for visiting other countries and for returning to Canada.”
Canada first imposed the travel restriction on travellers from seven African countries on Nov. 26 and then expanded it to 10 countries on Nov. 30 – South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt. The rule was heavily criticized, including by the World Health Organization and United Nations, and on Tuesday, Canada’s top doctors said it should be reassessed. Mr. Duclos again defended the rule on Friday.
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“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,” he said.
“Given the current situation, this measure has served its purpose and is no longer needed.”
Some premiers and the federal Conservatives had also supported the travel bans.
The federal government had also required travellers who are allowed to still enter Canada from those countries to get a negative COVID-19 test in a third country before boarding – which travellers said made getting to Canada next to impossible. The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed Friday that the rule requiring travellers to be tested in a country other than one of the 10 banned countries before departing for Canada will also be lifted on Dec. 18.
So, too, will the additional quarantine rules that those travellers faced.
“People having traveled through those ten countries will be subjected to the same rules as those traveling from other countries into Canada,” Mr. Duclos said.
Last week, The Globe reported that Canada was the only country among Group of Seven nations that had the additional third-country test requirement as part of its travel bans.
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