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COVID-19 Omicron: Canada will require new testing for travellers, adds three more countries to flight ban

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As more cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant continue to be reported, Canada will now require all air travellers, both vaccinated and unvaccinated (except from the United States), to be tested at the airport where they land.

These travellers will then need to isolate until they get the result of their test.

Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada's Minister of Health, indicated that the federal government is working with its provincial counterparts on possibly extending this testing measure to all land and air travellers, in needed.

He added that this new testing requirement will be implemented "as quickly as possible," which should be "over the next few days."

Canada is also adding Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt to the list of countries that are part of the flight ban for foreign nationals travelling to Canada, which includes South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia.

Hotel quarantine will still only be required for travellers who been in the 10 countries on the flight ban in the past 14 days.

How does Canada decide which countries to ban?

"We use different criteria for flagging countries of concern," Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"The three additional countries that we’re adding today, they have not yet reported Omicron variant in their own country, prior to other countries reporting importations from those countries, so including Belgium, Israel, Hong Kong, South Korea and now Canada.... This tells us that there may be some uncertainty in the country’s overall epidemiologic situation and their ability to detect and respond."

She added that federal authorities are also looking at the positivity rate for individuals arriving in Canada.

"We have this post-arrival testing and from that, we could detect that there has been a rise in positivity rate, for example from Egypt and from Nigeria," Dr. Tam said.

Should Canada rethink booster shot priorities?

Duclos also said on Tuesday that the federal government is asking Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to provide guidance on whether or not national advice on booster doses should be revised, given the threat of the Omicron variant.

When asked about to move to look at boosters for Canadians when there is a lack of equity in the availability of COVID-19 vaccines globally, Duclos stressed that Canada is contributing to the global vaccine supply, including through the COVAX system.

"We know that this pandemic is going to end only when it ends globally and that’s why we must, obviously, look after health and safety of Canadians but we also must be supporting other countries, especially those that are less developed and have certainly a public health system that is less developed," he said.

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