Canada has joined several European nations in banning flights from the United Kingdom to prevent the spread of a new and contagious strain of COVID-19 that reports say has been responsible for 60 per cent of new infections in London this month.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the call on Sunday (Dec. 20), announcing via Twitter that for the next 72 hours, all flights from the U.K. will be prohibited from entering Canada.
“Passengers who arrived today are subject to secondary screening and enhanced measures,” the Prime Minister tweeted.
The travel ban, which officially came into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday (Dec. 21), does not apply to cargo flights or stops where passengers do not disembark.
Variations are to be "expected"
Canada’s ministers of health, transport, foreign affairs, intergovernmental affairs and public safety met with members of the Incident Response Team on Sunday to review the situation.
In a release issued that same day, Ottawa said it is “closely monitoring the genetic variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 identified in the United Kingdom” while working with international partners, including the World Health Organization, to better understand the impact.
“Genetic variation of viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19 is to be expected and have been previously observed in parts of the world this year,” the Canadian government stated. “While early data suggest that the United Kingdom variant may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that the mutations have any impact on symptom severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.”
British health officials have struggled to contain this latest strain of COVID-19. The U.K. reported 35,928 new cases of the virus on Sunday.
Countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands have already closed their borders to the U.K. to prevent the strain from spreading and clogging up an already-overwhelmed health care system.
The British government said the coronavirus variant has been circulating since September, but didn’t have enough scientific evidence to prove that until recently.
The travel bans follow British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England would be cancelled this month.
More evidence needed
More evidence on the new strain is needed as countries around the world plan their next move.
Canada’s 72-hour ban on U.K. flights adds to an already-robust list of travel restrictions, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine order for international travellers, which has been in place since March 2020.
Passengers that arrived in Canada from the U.K. on Sunday are now subject to “secondary screening and enhanced measures, including increased scrutiny of quarantine plans,” the federal government said.
Passengers who arrived recently from the United Kingdom will also receive additional direction from the government.
“The notice we issued today, temporarily prohibiting flights to Canada from the United Kingdom, will reduce the public health risks to Canadians,” said Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, in a statement on Sunday.
Canada’s Minister of Health Patty Hajdu said the additional measures will “allow public health officials time to gather further evidence and help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed the Trudeau government’s call to suspend U.K. flights.
“With vaccines still very rare, if this new strain gets loose here in vulnerable populations, it will be a disaster,” Singh wrote on his Twitter on Sunday.
No cases identified in Canada
This new strain of COVID-19 has not been identified in Canada, said Ottawa.
The Canadian and global medical, public health and research community are “actively evaluating mutations to better understand the potential implications in terms of transmission, clinical presentation, and vaccine development,” the government said.
“It is essential to the health and safety of all Canadians that we continue to quickly adapt our border measures to respond to the evolving COVID-19 situation. The Canada Border Services Agency officers remain vigilant and are ready to implement these enhanced border measures to protect Canadians,” stated Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
The Government of Canada has contributed $40 million to support the creation of the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) to help better understand genetic variations of the virus as it evolves.
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