The federal government will introduce a series of new restrictions at Canada's borders in response to the Omicron variant, including requiring that all air travellers coming into Canada from outside of the U.S. be tested and isolate upon arrival.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced on Tuesday that all air travellers arriving in Canada from all countries except the U.S. will have to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. Travellers will then have to quarantine until they receive a negative test result.
Previously, travellers were required to provide a negative PCR test up to 72-hours before departing for Canada. That requirement will still be in place, in addition to the new testing requirement upon arrival in Canada.
The reintroduction of travel restrictions comes shortly after Canada confirmed its first cases of the Omicron variant. The first two infections were recorded in Ottawa on Sunday. As of Tuesday afternoon, cases of the new variant had been reported in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C.
The government also announced on Tuesday that it is adding three countries to the previous list of African nations facing a travel ban. Canada will now bar entry to foreign nationals who have travelled through Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria, expanding the number of countries facing such a ban to 10. The government first banned the entry of foreign nationals who had travelled from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe on Friday.
Duclos also said the federal government will meet with provincial and territorial ministers later today to prepare for a possible extension of the testing and quarantine requirements on air and land travel from the U.S.
Concerns about the Omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa on Nov. 24, have led to a reintroduction of travel restrictions around the world. The World Health Organization said Friday that the variant has "a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning", but it is not clear at this point whether it causes severe illness or increased transmissibility, as do other variants such as Delta.
When asked whether the government would consider implementing a blanket travel ban restricting the entry of all foreign nationals, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the government will monitor the situation closely and make "whatever decisions are necessary."
"The government will never hesitate to put in place protections that are necessary to protect Canadians from the virus," Mendicino said.
"That includes putting in place travel restrictions, including those that are transiting through the listed countries, three of which we are adding today."
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.