The federal government is once again warning Canadians against non-essential travel abroad as the Omicron variant continues to quickly spread worldwide.
Officials announced Wednesday the government is warning once again against non-essential travel by Canadians ahead of the holidays.
“We are asking Canadians to be cautious heading into the holiday season,” said Dominic LeBlanc, minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities.
“If you do not have to travel internationally, please do not.”
Cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant are raging around the world, particularly in the United Kingdom and Denmark, which both have highly vaccinated populations akin to Canada’s.
However, the variant contains dozens of mutations including some which preliminary studies have suggested can make COVID-19 vaccines less effective in preventing infections.
So far, available evidence does not suggest a significant lowering of the vaccines’ abilities to prevent people who are infected from experiencing severe symptoms or needing to go to hospital.
Evidence is still emerging about the full extent of the variant’s capabilities though, and leaders are facing growing calls to ramp up access to booster shots for their populations in order to fight any waning of immunity gained from vaccination campaigns over the summer.
Two years into the pandemic, it is not clear how an exhausted and burnt-out public will tolerate additional restrictions — but what is clear is that scientists are worried about what a rapid spike in cases will mean for the availability of hospital beds.
“Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Tuesday.
He also expressed concern that people were dismissing Omicron as mild, given some early reports from South Africa showing lower rates of hospitalization among Omicron patients.
“Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.”
Trudeau on Tuesday called the Omicron variant “scary” and has said health officials are “really concerned” about the potential for it to spread rapidly in Canada.
He suggested that “if we keep getting vaccinated and people get their booster shots and we get kids vaccinated and we continue to follow public health rules, we’re going to make it through this winter and into a much better summer.”
The comments mirrored remarks he offered almost exactly one year ago, telling Canadians they needed to hang on for “a few more months.”
With files from Global News’ Leslie Young.
More to come.