Ottawa is advising Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada as cases of COVID-19 increase and concerns about the Omicron variant continue to mount.
The federal government announced the decision at a press conference on Wednesday. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos also said the government will increase testing capacity at the border but did not provide additional details, saying that further announcements regarding testing will be made “soon.”
“To those who were planning to travel I say very clearly – now is not the time to travel,” Duclos said at the press conference on Wednesday, warning that travelling Canadians could contract the virus or get stranded abroad.
“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst for Canadians that may think of travelling.”
Duclos said the advisory will be in place for four weeks, at which point the government will reassess the situation.
“We know that this may sound very drastic to many listening, but we must avoid overloading our hospital system and our health care workers,” he added.
Ottawa is also sending an additional 35 million rapid tests to provinces and territories, and said 16 million vaccine doses are currently available, with more being delivered over the next several weeks.
WestJet in 'strong opposition' to advisory
WestJet released a statement Wednesday saying the airline is in "strong opposition" to the travel advisory and that it "is not based on science and data and significantly undermines aviation's proven safety record in response to COVID-19." The airline also called the measure "a setback in Canada's progress and its successful transition away from relying on blanket advisories and policies."
"Travel bans, restrictions and blanket advisories are devastating to the continued economic recovery of our country and place tens of thousands of recently recalled Canadian travel and tourism jobs at risk," WestJet chief executive Harry Taylor said in a statement.
"We are very concerned today's announcement will create unnecessary disruption and chaos in advance of the holiday travel season."
The government introduced a series of travel restrictions at Canada's borders in response to the Omicron variant at the end of November. All air travellers coming into Canada from outside of the U.S. are now required to be tested and isolate upon arrival. Previously, travellers were required to provide a negative PCR test up to 72-hours before departing for Canada. That requirement is still in place, in addition to the new testing requirement upon arrival in Canada.
Concerns about the Omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa on Nov. 24, have led to a reintroduction of many travel restrictions around the world.
The travel advisory comes as governments across the country reintroduce restrictions and accelerate the rollout of booster shots in the wake of the Omicron variant. On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that all adults over the age of 18 will be eligible for a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday Dec. 20. Ford also said that as of Saturday, any venue with a capacity of more than 1,000 – including stadiums, concert venues and large event spaces – will be capped at 50 per cent.
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.