December 22, 2020 By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is restricting travel from the U.K. in an effort to prevent a new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 from making it to Canada.
The move comes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday and doesn’t apply to cargo flights or stops where passengers do not disembark.
A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Marc Garneau says more information will be released shortly.
The news, contained in a Notice to Airmen sent out by NAV Canada, comes after a closed-door meeting with members of the Incident Response Team.
The ministers of health, transport, foreign affairs, intergovernmental affairs and public safety were all in attendance.
Several European countries announced earlier that they would close their borders to the U.K. as British officials struggle to contain the new strain, which has been blamed on a genetic mutation and led to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The list includes France, Belgium and the Netherlands, which have expressed concerns about the new strain leading a similar surge in their own countries and overwhelming health-care systems that are already struggling with the pandemic.
Those travel bans follow British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be cancelled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.
The new strain is wreaking havoc on the U.K., accounting for 60 per cent of new infections in London in December.
The U.K. recorded 35,928 further confirmed cases on Sunday, around double the number from a week earlier.
Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands of different mutations among samples of the virus causing COVID-19. Many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.
The British government has said the strain has been circulating since September, but it wasn’t until the last week that there was enough evidence to declare that it has higher transmissibility than other circulating coronaviruses.
Before Trudeau met with his cabinet ministers, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet called on the government to follow Europe’s lead and impose a travel ban on Britain to prevent the strain from reaching Canada.
“It will be several months before the pandemic is contained, especially with the number of (vaccine) doses available remains far too small,” Blanchet said in a statement released in French.
“If a variant of COVID-19 were to spread with increased speed among vulnerable people, the effects could be devastating on people’s health as well as on the health-care system and staff already under tremendous pressure.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made the same call on Twitter, writing: “With vaccines still very rare, if this new strain gets loose here in vulnerable populations, it will be a disaster.
“We need more information, but until we know more, flights from the UK need to be suspended.”
The Trudeau government did not respond to repeated questions from The Canadian Press on Sunday about whether Canada was considering a travel ban on the U.K.
Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner demanded the government provide more information about what it knows about the new strain and what it is doing to address it.
“If the Trudeau government is considering a similar travel ban, they need to clearly communicate this to Canadians and their rationale for doing so as soon as possible,” Rempel Garner said in a statement.
“Canadians deserve certainty and clarity from the Trudeau government.”