Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked the federal government for implementing new travel restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and said more discussions will be held about possibly expanding new testing rules to travellers from the United States.
Ford made the remarks at an unrelated press conference in Mississauga Wednesday morning.
Several Omicron variant cases have already been confirmed in Ontario, and Ford said while it is a “cause for concern” it is “not cause for panic.”
“Every day we hold off more cases entering our country, the more time we have to learn and prepare,” Ford said.
“So the best thing we can do right now is fortify our borders. Our best defence is keeping the variant out of our country. We welcome the actions from the federal government and I want to thank the feds for taking action to date.
“We implored them last week to act quickly and be decisive on the borders and they did.”
In a statement last Friday, Ford called on the federal government to enact travel bans on “countries of concern” and the feds followed through just hours later.
On Tuesday, they expanded that ban to three additional countries.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt who have been to those countries over the past two weeks will not be able to enter Canada. This added to the seven other African countries barred by Canada on Friday: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Canadians and permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada, who have transited through these countries over the past two weeks, will have to be tested at the airport and quarantine, Duclos said.
It was also announced that all air travellers entering Canada — excluding those coming from the United States — would have to get tested when they arrive and isolate until they receive a negative result. That measure applies to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.
Duclos said Wednesday that it will take time to implement the new measure.
In his statement last week, Ford also called for point-of-arrival testing to be put in place.
He also said he advised the province’s chief medical officer and Public Health Ontario to “immediately implement expanded surveillance” and update planning to “ensure we are ready for any outcome.”
The Omicron variant has now been detected in many countries around the world, including, as of Wednesday, the United States.
Ford was asked if he would support expanding the new testing rules to those arriving from the States.
“I would always support anything that can be cautious to prevent this variant coming into our country. So, again we’ll have a discussion with the federal government. That’s their jurisdiction, it’s not ours,” Ford said.
“They work collaboratively with all the provinces and territories and I’m always for going the cautious route as I think people have seen over the last 20 months.”
The premier added that “it doesn’t take much to get a test at the airport.”
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether Canada’s latest requirement to test arriving air travellers will be extended to include those coming from the United States.
“We need to be prepared and ready if we need to adjust that decision to include travellers from the U.S. We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.
When asked what provincial measures are being considered in response to the Omicron variant, Ford said they will make sure there is expanded testing capacity and contact tracing.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there is still much that isn’t known about the variant, including how effective vaccines are against it.
She said the province is “continuing with all of our precautions” and said it’s important to keep border restrictions in place until more is known about the variant.
Elliott also said more information will be released in the coming days “with respect to age categories” on booster shots.
— With files from Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press