The Government of Canada has a monitoring program in place with the provinces and territories to identify new COVID-19 variants in Canada, such as the ones identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
While early data suggests that these new variants may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that they cause more severe disease or have any impact on antibody response or vaccine effectiveness. More research is required to confirm these findings and the Canadian and global medical, public health and research communities are actively evaluating these mutations.
The Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) National Microbiology Laboratory monitors Canadian cases of COVID-19 with the provinces and territories through ongoing analysis of genomic databases in Canada. Through this ongoing national monitoring, two confirmed cases have been identified in Ontario of the variant observed in the United Kingdom.
As the monitoring continues, it is expected that other cases of this variant and other variants of concern may be found in Canada. Furthermore, as these two cases did not travel outside of Canada, it is important to follow public health measures and limit contacts with others, to reduce the transmission of the virus and any of its variants in communities. The best way to prevent infection with any variant of COVID-19 is to follow public health measures.
To reduce the risk of importation of the virus and any of its variants, Canada has had travel restrictions and border measures in place since March 2020, including mandatory quarantine. These rigorous quarantine measures are among some of the strongest in the world. Under 2% of all cases reported in Canada are from those who travelled outside of Canada.
All travellers must present their quarantine plan to the Quarantine Officer at the point of entry to Canada, and those with an inadequate plan are directed to a federal quarantine facility. PHAC monitors travellers’ compliance with quarantine and uses law enforcement officers to verify compliance during the 14-day quarantine. Individuals who are not complying with the quarantine requirements can face fines of up to $750,000 or six months in prison.
On December 20, in response to concerns about the UK COVID-19 variant, the Government of Canada also suspended all flights from the United Kingdom for 72 hours, subsequently extended until January 6, at 11:59pm. Travellers are since being asked additional health screening questions to help identify if their travel itinerary included a country of concern reporting this variant in the last 14 days prior to appearing at a Canadian port of entry.
All travellers will have their quarantine plan reviewed by a Quarantine Officer, and if not suitable, will be asked to quarantine in a federal quarantine centre. Travellers who arrived in Canada from a country of concern prior to December 20 are reminded to complete their full quarantine period, and to get tested even if symptoms are mild and report their travel history to local assessment centres.
The Government of Canada continues to advise against non-essential travel to other countries and are advising extra caution if you must travel to the United Kingdom or South Africa. Restrictions are changing quickly and may be imposed by countries with little warning, disrupting travel plans. Should individuals choose to take non-essential travel outside Canada, they may be forced to remain outside of Canada longer than expected.