Canada is bringing back a requirement for everyone entering the country to have a pre-arrival negative molecular test result for COVID-19, even if travellers are returning after being away for under 72 hours.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said that requirement will return as of Tuesday, which is only about a month since Canada waived the need for a test for those taking short cross-border trips.
Duclos said those pre-arrival tests must be taken outside of Canada, which is a new rule.
Canada is also removing a ban on all travellers who have recently passed through 10 African countries, a measure the federal government brought in late last month in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Duclos said this measure has served its purpose and is no longer necessary, and it will be lifted Saturday as of 11:59 p.m.
The new measures come as chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warns that the Omicron variant could overwhelm the health-care system in a “short amount of time” and is urging Canadians to adjust their holiday plans.
She said last week’s modelling update warned Canadians about the likelihood of a strong resurgence of COVID-19 if Omicron replaces Delta as the dominant variant in the country.
Since then, she said Omicron numbers have rapidly risen, with close to 350 confirmed cases in 11 provinces and territories. Increasing numbers of those cases are not linked to travel, indicating community spread, she added.
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people have tested positive for the Omicron variant, she said. But she stressed that being fully vaccinated and then getting a booster, from either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, is expected to provide reasonable protection against infection and likely strong protection against severe illness.
While the severity of the variant is still being studied, the sheer number of cases could soon inundate the health-care system, she said.
Over the past seven days, Canada has seen an average of 5,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, 45 per cent higher than the previous seven-day period, Tam said.
Some 1,450 people are being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals every day, with 450 in intensive-care units and 19 deaths reported daily, she added.
Canada needs to slow the rate of spread immediately, Tam said.
She urged the seven million eligible Canadians who need a first or second dose of vaccine to get their shots, and for everyone who can get a booster dose to do so.
Canadians must adjust their holiday plans and obey a federal advisory against non-essential international travel, she said.
Duclos also said he is speaking with provinces about rapidly increasing booster shots. The government has stepped up to provide 35 million rapid tests to provinces this month, he said.
He said he had a very simple message: “We must all do our part.”
“I know that we are all sick of this pandemic. I know this is psychologically and mentally difficult.”
“Together, we â€¦ can save lives.”
The rapid spread of Omicron is prompting provinces to tighten public health restrictions
The daily tally of new COVID-19 cases in both Ontario and Quebec has soared well above 2,000, and the latest modelling in the two provinces indicates those numbers are poised to balloon further to historic levels unless urgent action is taken to slow Omicron’s spread.
Starting Monday in Quebec, all bars, restaurants, retail stores and places of worship will be limited to 50 per cent capacity. Premier Francois Legault also reversed a decision to ease indoor gathering limits - keeping the maximum at 10 people over the holidays.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has reintroduced a 50 per cent crowd limit in venues with a capacity of more than 1,000.
Starting Monday, Saskatchewan is opening booster shots to eligible residents over the age of 18 and is reducing the time required between second and third doses to three months from five.
As the grim toll of deaths from COVID 19 surpassed the sad milestone of 30,000 on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be cautious over the holidays.
“What choices we make as Canadians over the next week or two will determine how bad the rest of our winter is - how many people we lose, how overwhelmed our hospitals get, how much we’re going to take a hit in our economy,” he said during a year-end roundtable interview with The Canadian Press.
— Laura Osman THE CANADIAN PRESS