'How to NOT deal with a pandemic’: Experts blast Canada’s South Africa travel restrictions, new COVID-19 variant spread

The Canadian government announced Friday that it is banning foreign nationals travelling to the country from seven Southern African countries, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia.

This is among new measured the federal government has implemented, in an effort to prevent the spread of the new B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant, first detected in South Africa. Other measures include pre-departure and arrival testing for Canadians and permanent residents, and a quarantine measure.

As calls were made for additional border measures to be implemented, including from Ontario and Alberta premiers, infectious disease and health experts in Canada took to social media, largely against this measure as an effective way to prevent spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

When asked to explain why these new restrictions will only be in place in relation to those who have been travelling in Southern African countries, Canada's Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, stressed that the "centre of the current course" is in South Africa and Canada will benefit from other countries also introducing travel restrictions, including the U.K.

Belgium has confirmed one case of this variant, the first in the European Union, with additional cases detected in Hong Kong and Israel.

"We are adding these extra layers to countries that we believe there is community transmission of this variant," Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, added at a press conference on Friday.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, stressed that is it "very difficult" to keep a virus like this out of Canada entirely, but it hasn't been detected in the country yet.

"I would not be surprised if many countries, over the next days, now that they’ve been alerted, might go back and try and find out if the virus had already arrived," Dr. Tam said. "The border is never 100 per cent but each layer provides an additional layer of protection."

"I don’t think people should be surprised if we did get a detection, what we’re trying to do is make sure that people who have come from that area of the country are now being quarantined."