Canada’s transport minister said there is a “high risk” that countries may change their border rules as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads, potentially leaving Canadians that opted to travel stranded abroad.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that the risk was a factor in the government’s decision to issue an advisory against non-essential travel earlier in the week.
He said the recommendation is not only to protect Canadians against the variant, but also to avoid trouble from “any sudden changes of border measures, either in Canada or around the world.”
“We don’t want to see any Canadian get stuck or having to deal with any symptoms abroad,” Alghabra said.
“There is a high risk that other countries could change their own border measures.”
Travel measures are quickly changing as the spread of Omicron accelerates globally.
The World Health Organization now says that the variant has been detected in 89 countries and cases are doubling every 1.5 to three days.
Evidence suggests the variant will soon overtake the Delta variant in the countries it is present, the UN agency said, and the spread is also occurring among those who are fully vaccinated.
The travel industry has not reacted kindly to new measures to fight the spread in Canada, though.
WestJet CEO Harry Taylor said the non-essential travel advisory will create “unnecessary disruption and chaos” ahead of the holiday travel season, while the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies warned that it will have a “devasting impact” on the industry.
“Fully vaccinated Canadians should not be singled out for choosing to take part in a safe activity,” Taylor said in a statement.
Airline customers have already been cancelling by the thousands due to the changing restrictions, according to Air Transport Association of Canada CEO John McKenna.
“I think they’re more afraid of the bureaucracy than of Omicron,” he said.
As the situation evolves, Alghabra said that the government will not hesitate to implement additional measures — such as a mandatory quarantine when returning to Canada — if necessary and the evidence supports it.
“If we need to add another layer of protection because that’s the advice we receive, we will not hesitate to do so,” he said.
When asked why border measures are necessary if Omicron seems to already be in Canada, Alghabra said it is best for Canadians to minimize interactions as much as possible, including with other countries that may not have robust public health systems.
“It’s just a matter of probability, it’s a matter of precaution, it’s a matter of prudence.”