The federal government announced yesterday that Canada is enacting travel restrictions on seven Southern African countries, effective immediately until January 31, 2022.
This comes in response to a new variant of concern, which the WHO has dubbed the Omicron variant. Around 100 cases were first discovered in Botswana, followed by South Africa, before cases were also detected in other parts of the world like Hong Kong and Belgium.
Canada Adds Travel Restrictions Due to Omicron Variant
All foreign nationals who have been in Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe in the past 14 days will be barred from entering the country.
For returning Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been in one of these countries over the past 14 days, there are a few new travel restrictions in place to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
Travellers returning from southern Africa will need to have a negative COVID-19 molecular test result not only from the past 72 hours, but it must be taken in the country where they are boarding their final inbound flight to Canada. For example, a traveller flying Johannesburg–Abu Dhabi–London–Toronto must take their COVID-19 test in London.
This creates a significant roadblock on the trip home because there are no direct flights from Southern Africa and Canada, and almost all travellers will need to transit in Europe, the Middle East, or the US.
Keep in mind that many of these regions have already implemented their own travel restrictions against South African nations, so the road to obtaining a COVID-19 test in transit becomes doubly complicated.
Upon arrival in Canada, travellers – regardless of their vaccination status – will have to complete a COVID-19 PCR test on arrival and quarantine at a designated hotel until it returns a negative result.
After that, they will permitted to quarantine at home for the remainder of the 14 days, with another COVID-19 test required on Day 8.
(For fully vaccinated travellers, this marks a partial return of the 14-day quarantine that Canada had in place from March 2020 to July 2021.)
Furthermore, this test-and-quarantine on arrival policy applies retroactively, meaning that travellers who have visited the affected countries and arrived in Canada over the past 14 days will have to take a COVID-19 test and quarantine until they receive a negative result, although this quarantine does not have to be at a federally designated quarantine hotel.
A Return of Travel Restrictions: Here We Go Again?
As an avid traveller and someone who has continued to travel internationally throughout the pandemic, I would of course love to see restrictions be loosened rather than tightened, especially as the global vaccination rate has continued to increase.
We’ve seen that trend happen in Canada throughout 2021, first with removing the 14-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers, then removing the COVID-19 molecular test requirement for trips outside the country of 72 hours or less. Global Affairs has even removed the Level 3 Do Not Travel advisory.
Of course, this was contingent on COVID-19 rates actually decreasing around the world at a time where vaccines were shown to be working effectively, and we saw policies change as a result.
The WHO has identified that the recent Omicron variant may be more infectious than the prevailing Delta variant and therefore pose a greater risk, along with concerns that the large number of mutations may reduce the effectiveness of our current COVID-19 vaccines.
Despite this, the WHO has called for borders to remain open, citing that the closing of borders does not necessarily prevent the variant from being imported and warning against overreactions.
Nevertheless, the UK and Europe were first to ban travellers from Southern Africa, followed by Canada, the US, and several other countries shortly after.
While I do understand the reasoning behind enacting these new travel restrictions, I still believe it’s much more important to focus on our own vaccine efforts here within the country, as well as more equitably sharing our vaccines with the rest of the world.
As long as COVID-19 continues to have high rates of transmission somewhere in the world, variants more dangerous than the last may continue to develop. As they develop, it’s almost inevitable that they will make their way around the globe sooner or later.
Each variant has become a cycle of closing our borders, the variant being found in the country anyway, then eventually opening our borders and loosing restrictions – before the next variant is found.
How many more times will we see this cycle continuing, with different travel restrictions coming and going? For those of us who have done our part and gotten vaccinated, how much longer will we wait before we can feel comfortable in travelling again?
In the interim, we’ve been hit with the reality of international travel towards the end of 2021 and going into 2022: being fully vaccinated is only the beginning, and we are very much looking at an immediate future of continued testing requirements, sudden border closures, and a general elevated risk that accompanies international travel.
It’s important to plan your 2022 travels with this reality in mind: book flights and hotels with flexible change and cancellation policies, carefully follow testing and border requirements before you travel, and always have backup trips for your backup trips.
Canada will be implementing a ban on foreign nationals arriving from Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, effective immediately through January 31, 2022.
Only citizens and permanent residents will be granted entry, and they must perform a negative COVID-19 test at the airport where their direct flight to Canada commences.
Returning travellers – regardless of vaccination status – will also undergo a COVID-19 test upon arrival and quarantined at a designated hotel until the test returns a negative result. After that, they can then complete the remainder of a 14-day quarantine at home, with another COVID-19 test taken on Day 8.
For a full guide to everything you need to know about international travel at this time, including pre-travel testing options by province, quarantine rules, and destinations that are open to tourism without quarantine, refer to our resource for Travel During COVID-19 for Canadians.