OTTAWA, ON – The federal government is trying to slow the spread of a new COVID-19 variant discovered in the southern half of Africa by imposing travel bans.

Health Minister Jean Yves-Duclot says the government is imposing five measures to try and limit the spread.

Foreign travellers who visited South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho or Eswatini in the past 14 days will not be allowed into the country. Those who did arrive in Canada will have to quarantine and be tested, staying in isolation until a negative result is obtained.

Canadians and permanent residents will need to take a COVID-19 test on arrival, quarantining in a hotel until the test results are negative. Then, they can return home and quarantine until they have a negative test result 10 days after returning to Canada.

Canadians who travelled through the area and are returning from another region will be required to show a negative COVID-19 test before they can return home.

Among the countries that have imposed travel bans are the United States, Great Britain, India, Japan, Isreal and several EU nations. The virus has been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Israel, Belgium and Hong Kong.

During a news conference Friday, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said it would not surprise her to find that the virus has already made it into Canada.

“It’s very difficult to keep a virus like this out entirely,” said Dr. Theresa Tam. “I don’t think people should be surprised if we did get a detection.”

On Friday, the World Health Organization dubbed the new variant called Omicron a variant of concern. Variants of concern have characteristics that make the virus more transmissible, bringing more severe symptoms and weaker immunity from vaccines.

A genetic sequencing expert from the University of Cambridge, Sharon Peacock, says data shows the new variant is more transmissible, but it will take weeks to determine all the characteristics of the mutated virus, such as the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant.