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Federal government considering new travel bans to limit spread of Omicron: sources


The government is said to be considering banning all foreign travellers from Canada and putting in place an advisory banning non-essential international travel by Canadians

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The Liberal government is considering a host of new border restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, sources told the National Post.

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A senior Liberal source said the government is considering all measures, including travel restrictions, but has not yet made a final decision.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was set to speak with the premiers Tuesday evening about the Omicron variant and what can be done to curb its rapid spread.

The rise in cases of Omicron is clearly worrying premiers, especially with Christmas just over a week away when many family gatherings will take place.

A source familiar with the Liberal discussions said the government is considering banning all foreign travellers from the country and putting in place an advisory banning non-essential international travel by Canadians.

The ban could thus include foreign travellers from the U.S., the source said.

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Though no final decision had been made as of press time Tuesday evening, an announcement could come as early as tomorrow.

One key detail that is being ironed out is the effective date of the new measures.

The sources said the federal government will focus on border and travel measures on the call with premiers, and will encourage the premiers to focus on rapid tests and booster shots, as well as advise against loosening rules for Christmas gatherings.

In Tuesday’s fiscal update, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government was budgeting $1.7 billion to buy more rapid tests and ship them out across the country to provinces.

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She also said $4.5 billion was being put aside to handle Omicron expenses.

On Tuesday, Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, recommended the provincial government take urgent action to combat Omicron.

Moore says an announcement will come later this week, with health officials reviewing restrictions such as maximum group sizes for gatherings.

Though the new variant is still being studied, Moore says there is evidence that it transmits more easily and that more fully vaccinated people are becoming infected with it.

Omicron is on track to become the dominant strain in Ontario and Moore says all new cases should be treated as Omicron going forward, meaning all their contacts must isolate for 10 days even if they are vaccinated.

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In Quebec, the provincial government on Tuesday recommended employers prioritize remote work and pledged to issue free rapid tests to the public next week.

The recommendation for remote work is effective immediately, Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters. He said the government was also looking to find volunteers to help it ramp up its booster-dose vaccination program, but in the meantime, he added, Quebecers need to reduce their contacts.

“With the rising cases and the potential of Omicron, we want to accelerate booster vaccinations,” Dube said about the new variant of the novel coronavirus, of which only 11 cases have so far been confirmed in the province. “But we need more vaccinators. We’re asking employers as of today to favour (remote work) until further notice to minimize contacts at work.”

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You have to stay ahead of the game

Later on Tuesday, the government announced it had suspended its return-to-work order for public servants that had been implemented in mid-November. Full-time remote work would apply “for relevant public service personnel until recommended otherwise.”

Dube said that despite the high level of community transmission in Quebec, the government would maintain its decision to ease restrictions and permit up to 20 people to gather indoors starting Dec. 23, up from a limit of 10 people.

But that could change.

“We are not afraid to change our minds if we think we are not going in the right direction,” Dube said. “You have to stay ahead of the game.”

The province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, appealed to the common sense of Quebecers. In his own case, he said he reduced the size of his holiday gathering to seven people from 15. “You have to manage your own risk,” Arruda said. “I’m appealing to the intelligence of Quebecers and if they have concerns and they’re worried, they should reduce their contacts.”

British Columbia has detected 44 cases of Omicron. Those who have tested positive for Omicron are between the ages of five and 72 and none have been hospitalized.

The Health Ministry says 20 of those infected recently travelled to Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Germany, Portugal or the United States.

— With additional reporting by The Canadian Press

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