The federal government announced new exemptions and a grace period for unvaccinated foreign nationals Friday, along with details of its vaccine mandate for travellers that takes effect Saturday.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra spoke at Toronto Pearson Airport about Transport Canada’s final orders and guidance, issued to airlines and railways following consultations.
Starting at 3 a.m. on Oct. 30, all travellers in Canada aged 12 and older must be fully vaccinated before boarding planes, trains or cruise ships in this country. Even those fully vaccinated need to show proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test upon returning to Canada. Ottawa is facing pressure to drop that requirement.
Canadians travelling abroad will need to follow the rules of the specific airline and country they are entering, which may include testing.
According to the government’s rules, travellers should be fully vaccinated two weeks prior to travel.
If travellers have started the vaccination process but have not yet completed it, they can show proof of a valid COVID-19 molecular test until Nov. 29. As of Nov. 30, the unvaccinated will not be eligible to travel, except for limited exemptions.
“Let me be very clear. If you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of November, you will not be allowed to board a plane or train in Canada,” Alghabra said.
But the transport minister said there would be a “few exceptions” for “emergencies and special accommodation for designated remote communities so residents can continue to access essential services.”
Alghabra said that after consultations with Indigenous communities, provinces and territories, the government recognizes that there are several communities where the only way in or out for most of the year is by plane, and some may need to travel for emergency reasons.
“Those are communities that have very little if no access to the outside world other than travelling by plane,” he said.
Also new today is that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) will support operators by confirming vaccination status.
To qualify as a fully vaccinated traveller to Canada, you must have received at least 2 doses of a Government of Canada-accepted COVID-19 vaccine or a mix of 2 accepted vaccines.
WATCH | What you need to know about required vaccines for travellers:
Grace period for unvaccinated foreign travellers leaving Canada
Alghabra also announced new “transitional measures” for unvaccinated foreign nationals who don’t live in Canada and entered the country before Oct. 30. They will have until Feb. 28 to show proof of a valid COVID-19 molecular test in order to board a flight taking them out of the country.
After Feb. 28, foreign nationals who want to leave Canada will need to get fully vaccinated, he said.
The government already said in August that all employers in federally regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors are required to roll out mandatory vaccination policies for their organization by tomorrow.
After a short transition period, companies must guarantee staff, including those who work at restaurants and retail stores at airports, are fully vaccinated; those who aren’t could be forced off the job.
Alghabra did not provide an update on the government’s work on a standardized vaccine certificate but said he wanted to “thank everyone who has done the right thing and gotten vaccinated.”
Alghabra told CBC’s Rosemary Barton earlier this month that the federal government was continuing to work with provinces and territories to come up with a standardized certificate that likely would include a QR code for travellers to use at the airport.
Alghabra said then that he expected the project to be completed in a matter of weeks.
The vaccine mandate for travellers was one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promises during the recent campaign. His deputy, Chrystia Freeland, has said that the Liberals heard strong support for vaccine mandates while door-knocking during the campaign.
Roughly 72 per cent of Canada’s total population is fully vaccinated.
The Conservatives have argued against vaccine mandates, saying that while they encourage Canadians to get vaccinated, it’s a matter of personal choice. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has accused Trudeau of politicizing the issue of vaccines and creating division in the country.
Omicron variant prompts emergency G7 health meeting, including Canada – Globalnews.ca
The new variant appeared in South Africa, coinciding with an increase in COVID-19 cases in the region.
The news prompted border closures as well as screening measures in Canada and around the world.
“The overall risk related to Omicron is considered very high for a number of reasons,” the World Health Organization warned.
“There is concerning preliminary evidence on Omicron suggesting, in contrast to previous (variants of concern), both potential immune escape and higher transmissibility that could lead to further surges with severe consequences.”
Two cases of the Omicron variant have been discovered in Ottawa, and public-health workers are doing contact tracing in an attempt to stamp out transmission.
Officials warn more cases are likely to be found within Canada in coming days.
A spokeswoman for Duclos said more information about the virtual G7 meeting will be released later Monday.
What we know about the Omicron variant
The developments come as countries debated a new global convention on pandemic preparedness and response at a special meeting of the World Health Assembly on Monday.
It is only the second time the group has held an emergency summit of this kind.
If member countries agree, the assembly would begin developing what would essentially serve as an international treaty on pandemic readiness.
“Global health security is too important to be left to chance, or goodwill, or shifting geopolitical currents, or the vested interests of companies and shareholders,” World Health Organization director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the outset of the summit.
“The best way we can address them is with a legally binding agreement between nations: an accord forged from the recognition that we have no future but a common future.”
COVID-19: Omicron variant poses “very high” global risk, WHO warns
He said the emergence of the Omicron variant underlines the perilous and precarious nature of the global situation.
“Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics. Our current system disincentives countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” he said.
The idea is to prevent another global crisis like the one posed by COVID-19 and its new, potentially more transmissible variants.
“Our position has always been that we are stronger when we work together,” Duclos said Friday in support of a new convention.
A binding international agreement would help countries to collaborate and would allow Canada to more easily share its expertise on the world stage, Duclos said.
“That level of policy and scientific leadership is a sign that we can do even better in the future as we collaborate with WHO and other organization in order to prevent the incidents of future pandemics and protect Canadians against such things.”
The WHO working group on the file says governments should look to develop the convention in tandem with efforts to strengthen existing international health regulations.
The working group’s priorities include a focus on global equity, rapid risk detection and assessment, a global approach to misinformation and the sharing of pathogens, genetic information and biological samples.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Canada supports plan for international pandemic treaty – CBC.ca
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says Canada supports the development of a new global convention on pandemic preparedness and response that will be debated at a special meeting of the World Health Assembly today.
It is only the second time in its history that the group has held an emergency summit of this kind.
If member countries agree, the assembly would go to work developing what would essentially serve as an international treaty on pandemic preparedness.
The idea is to prevent another global crisis like the one posed by COVID-19 and its new, more transmissible variants.
Duclos, who would serve as the federal government’s chief delegate, says the convention would help countries to collaborate and would allow Canada to more easily share its expertise on the world stage.
The WHO working group on the file says that governments should look to develop the convention in tandem with efforts to strengthen existing International Health Regulations.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca
The World Health Organization on Monday pushed for an international accord to help prevent and fight future pandemics amid the emergence of the worrying new omicron coronavirus variant.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said many uncertainties remain about just how transmissible the variant is, and how severe an infection it might cause.
Tedros joined leaders like outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera for a long-planned and largely virtual special session of the UN health agency’s member states at the World Health Assembly.
The gathering is aimed at devising a global action plan toward preventing, preparing for, and responding to future pandemics.
“The emergence of the highly mutated omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Tedros said, calling for a “legally binding” agreement that wasn’t mentioned in a draft text seeking consensus on the way forward. “Indeed, omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics.”
“Our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” he said, noting that South Africa and Botswana — where the new variant was detected in southern Africa — should be praised and not “penalized” for their work. That was an allusion to travel restrictions announced by many countries on air travel to and from the region.
Tedros said WHO scientists and others around the world were working urgently to decipher the threat posed by the new variant, saying: “We don’t yet know whether omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of infections, or more risk of evading vaccines.”
The world should now be “wide awake” to the threat of the coronavirus, “but omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it’s not done with us,” he said.
A draft resolution set to be adopted by the World Health Assembly stops short of calling for work toward specifically establishing a “pandemic treaty” or “legally binding instrument” sought by some, which could beef up the international response when — not if — a new pandemic erupts.
European Union member countries and others had sought language calling for work toward a treaty, but the United States and a few other countries countered that the substance of any accord should be worked out first before any such document is given a name. A “treaty” would suggest a legally binding agreement that could require ratification — and would likely incur domestic political haggling in some countries.
Merkel, whose 16-year tenure is likely to end next week, called for “reliable financing” for WHO and increased contributions to the UN agency from its member states — while alluding to the EU position in favour of a binding agreement.
“The catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of health and the economy ought to be a lesson to us,” she said by video message. “Viruses know no national borders. That’s precisely why we should lay down measures to be taken to improve prevention, early detection and response in internationally binding fashion.”
The three-day meeting that opened Monday amounts to a long-term approach: Any UN-backed agreement is likely to take many months, if not years, to be concluded and come into effect.
But it comes as many countries have been scrambling to address the emergence of omicron, which has led to travel bans across the world and sent tremors through stock markets on Friday.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 6:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday afternoon, more than 261.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.
In the Americas, President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans on Monday that the United States was prepared to handle the new omicron variant, pledging to accelerate development of vaccines to handle it if necessary.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House following a meeting with his COVID-19 team.
“Sooner or later we are going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States,” Biden said. The White House is working with vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans, if needed, to handle omicron, he said.
In Europe, Britain will offer a COVID-19 booster vaccine to all adults and give second doses to children aged between 12 and 15, the U.K.’s top vaccine advisers said on Monday, accelerating shots in light of concern about the spread of the omicron variant.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said that all adults between 18 and 39 years old could receive shots, extending a program that is already open for over 40s. The JCVI also said that the gap between second doses and boosters could be shortened to three months from six months, in response to the changing risk posed by omicron.
“Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the omicron variant,” said Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chair for COVID-19 immunization.
JCVI reiterated that it advised a largely age-based approach to the booster program, with older adults as well as vulnerable people prioritized for shots.
For the latest information on the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/OmicronVariant?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#OmicronVariant</a> of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a>, keep checking back to our rolling news story: <a href=”https://t.co/254m2rwJN5″>https://t.co/254m2rwJN5</a>
In Africa on Sunday, a South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect the presence of a new variant said omicron appeared so far to be producing mild symptoms.
However, Abdool Karim, a professor at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal and Columbia University in the United States, said it was too early to draw firm conclusions, because doctors can only comment on patients who they treat.
“In terms of clinical presentation, there’s not enough data yet,” he said.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s health minister called on Monday for a lifting of “discriminatory” travel bans imposed on southern African countries because of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“We find these travel bans discriminatory in light of the fact that the same travel bans have not been imposed on other countries where this variant has been found,” Joe Phaahla told WHO in a speech.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines on Monday launched an ambitious drive to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 in three days, deploying security forces and thousands of volunteers in a program made urgent by the threats of the omicron variant. Three million daily vaccinations would be nearly quadruple the national average of 829,000 during November.
Meanwhile, Singapore and Malaysia reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of remaining shut due to the pandemic.
In the Middle East, OPEC and its allies have postponed technical meetings to later this week, giving themselves more time to assess the impact of the new omicron coronavirus variant on oil demand and prices, according to OPEC+ sources and documents.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:50 p.m. ET
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