Ford welcomes Canada’s latest travel rules, says new variant is cause for concern, but not panic

TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford welcomed the federal government’s latest travel restrictions and testing requirements in response to the Omicron variant, saying local cases are “a cause for concern, but not a cause for panic.”

The premier made the comments during a news conference on Wednesday about the provinces long awaited plans for a rebuild of Trillium Health Partners’ Mississauga Hospital and just hours after the federal government announced it will add more countries to the list of nations subjected to travel restrictions, and will impose new testing requirements on all air travellers coming from outside of Canada with the exception of the U.S.

“Every day we learn more about the Omicron virus and about how quickly it can spread and how severe it may be,” Ford told reporters. “Every day we hold off on more cases entering our country, the more time we have to learn and prepare. So the best thing we can do right now is to fortify our borders.”

“We welcome the actions from the federal government and I want to thank the feds for taking action today … We cannot jeopardize the gains that we’ve made.”

Little is yet known about Omicron at this point in time, including whether it is more contagious, causes more serious illness or can evade vaccines. Scientists say it is of concern due to its high number of mutations. While the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, it may have already been in other parts of the world before South African scientists flagged it to the world.

On Friday, in response to the discovery, Ford publicly called on Ottawa to ban all flights and passengers from countries of concern and implement new testing requirements. So far, four cases of the new Omicron variant have been identified in Ontario.

Canada pushed further travel restrictions on Tuesday. New testing requirements will now mean that all air travellers coming from outside Canada, with the exception of the United States, will need to be tested at the airport when they land in Canada, on top of the existing pre-departure test requirement.

The federal government also added Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt to the group of seven other countries originally facing travel restrictions, including South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

“I’m glad that we enhanced the testing at the airports and we’ve added three additional countries on the list,” Ford said on Wednesday. He added that he will continue to have conversations with the federal government about what new restrictions needs to be in place.

“I’d always support anything that can be cautious to prevent this new variant from coming into our country.”

Ford said the province is planning to increase tracking and tracing within the province to monitor the new variant of concern. He said the province is also increasing testing.

Health officials reported an additional 780 new COVID-19 cases in Ontario on Wednesday, as well as six more deaths related to the disease. Ontario’s seven-day rolling average of daily infections continues to rise, standing at about 821 today.

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