Waterloo Region prepares for possible new COVID-19 variant of concern
As health officials in Waterloo Region prepare for the possibility of a new variant of concern, those in the travel industry are bracing for an impact to the latest travel rules.
On Friday, a World Health Organization panel named a new variant "omicron" and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern.
Canada, along with a number of other countries, also banned travel from Southern Africa, where it's believed to have originated from.
Cambridge travel agent Brenda Goodsell says that, with all the newly introduced measures, it could be a complicated journey for anyone travelling home from Southern Africa, while others may be discouraged to travel to areas with connecting flights.
Since there are no direct flights from Southern Africa to Canada, any Canadian citizens or permanent residents returning home must take a COVID-19 test in a third country in order to be able to enter back to Canada.
Passengers are also tested when they arrive, and anyone who has travelled through Southern Africa in the last 14 days is being asked to quarantine and go for a COVID-19 test.
Goodsell, the co-owner of Preston Travel, also expects the new rules to impact those planning to travel through Europe.
"If they're going to connect through some European cities that have some connecting flights, they'll have to do a PCR test at their connecting city," she said. "I do think it will discourage Europe, it will discourage the far flung places that might have connections and South Africans coming through.
"It's stricter and it's what makes me think they're more concerned with this variant."
Region of Waterloo officials responded to the mounting concerns over the new variant at a weekly briefing on Friday.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang stressed that one of the best ways to strengthen community immunity is to stick with the same game plan and get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We know that public health measures and vaccinations have been effective against all of the variants of COVID-19 to date," she said. "At a local level, we need to continue to increase our community immunity and practice public health measures."
Regional chair Karen Redman added that the region has been in contact with the premier's office to address the threat of the new variant.
"I'm encouraged to see that the provincial and federal government are looking at addressing this issue together," she said. "Given this is a pretty predictable outcome, it’s the way viruses work, I'm heartened to see they're continuing to be vigilant."