Canada lifts travel ban on flights from South Africa

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Canada will be lifting of a ban on foreign travelers from South Africa and other African countries, while reimposing testing requirements and warning that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 risks quickly overwhelming hospitals.

The travel restriction on flights from South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt will end at 04:59 GMT on Sunday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference.

The restriction had been announced last month "to slow the arrival of Omicron in Canada and buy us some time," he said. But with Omicron now spreading within Canada it is "no longer needed."

Pre-arrival negative PCR tests for all travelers would also be reinstated as of December 21, Duclos said, while repeating a government warning earlier this week that "now is not the time to travel."

Officials said laboratory tests have confirmed as of Friday nearly 350 cases of the Omicron variant across Canada.

The total average daily Covid case count, meanwhile, has jumped by 45% in the past week to about 5 000.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said:

It is expected the sheer number of (Omicron) cases could inundate the health system in a very short period of time.

Also on Friday, Ontario and British Columbia provinces reinstated limits on gatherings to 10 people through the Christmas holidays, following Quebec's lead a day earlier.

Restaurants, gyms, shopping malls and other venues must also reduce crowd capacities by 50%.

"Nothing will stop the spread of Omicron," Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a news conference. "It's just too transmissible."

"If we don't take every single precaution we can, the modelling tells a scary story," he added, echoing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who earlier tweeted about "scary" record Covid numbers.

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