Evening Brief: New COVID variant prompts travel clampdown

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Good evening to you.

There was more discouraging pandemic news today with word the World Health Organization had designated a new coronavirus strain detected in South Africa as a variant of concern. Known as Omicron, the variant has a large number of mutations. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection with this variant, as compared to other” variants of concern, the WHO said in a news release.

That prompted countries around the world to restrict travel from southern Africa amid fears of potential spread. Canada was among them. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that the federal government is taking five new measures to prevent the spread of the new variant. The government is banning entry of foreign nationals who’ve travelled in the last 14 days through South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini. Global Affairs Canada is advising Canadians not to travel to the region.

Passengers at Pearson International Airport in Toronto in February (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)

Travellers who’ve arrived in Canada from southern Africa in the past two weeks must quarantine and remain in isolation until receiving a negative COVID test. Canadians and permanent residents returning home from the region, and who have the right to return, will be tested at the border and must quarantine. They’ll again be tested on Day 8 of their quarantine period as well, Canadians coming home from the region must be tested in their last transit country and must respect all measures announced today. They’ll also be required to stay in a government-approved quarantine facility until they test negative for COVID, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said. Rachel Emmanuel reports.

Hong Kong has confirmed two cases of the new variant, one of which involves someone who travelled from Canada. They were quarantined in a hotel room next to a traveller from South Africa with the virus, who used a mask with a valve that doesn’t filter exhaled air. As Reuters reports, health officials said today that person may have transmitted the virus when their hotel room door was open.

This Alberta doctor is calling for interprovincial travel restrictions to be put in place to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau headed to B.C. today to survey the damage caused by devastating floods and landslides, which was the work of a powerful atmospheric river. Meanwhile, residents are bracing for the second of three atmospheric rivers which are expected in the coming days. As Global News reports, government officials warned today these storms may also bring flooding, power outages and landslides. “For people in B.C., the time to prepare is now,” said Transportation Minister Rob Fleming.

A truck drives down a flooded road in Abbotsford, B.C., Thursday, November 25, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

Peter Xotta, president of planning and operations with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, says the extreme flooding that’s caused major disruptions to supply chains has been a wakeup call, given the destruction of bridges, roads and train tracks. Earlier this week, CP and CN railways partly resumed rail service at the Port of Vancouver, which depends on trains to move heavy goods like coal and potash.

It will likely take up to six weeks before operations return to normal at the port, Xotta told iPolitics today, adding that service is less than half what it is normally, and “multiple arteries” are affected. “This event was unprecedented. We need to consider events of this scale and how we respond (to them in future).” Jeff Labine has more.

On the other end of the country, where heavy rains have left Port-aux-Basques in southwestern Newfoundland, cut off from the rest of the province, Trudeau said in a post on Twitter today that he has approved a request for to send in the military to help with logistical support and transportation assistance.

The Canadian Coast guard’s medium icebreaker Henry Larsen is seen in Allen Bay during Operation Nanook on August 25, 2010. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

There is little that climate change is not impacting. As the Arctic continues warming at a rate almost twice the global average, Canada’s Coast Guard is boosting its patrols of waterways that have opened up as a result. Three years ago, the Coast Guard established headquarters in Yellowknife, as well as several satellite operations across the northern territories. It also started working with Indigenous peoples and supplied boats to about 18 northern communities to help with maritime patrols.

“In all likelihood, we (will move) toward permanent search-and-rescue and environmental-response stations, (which responds to marine pollution in strategic locations in the Arctic,” said Chris Henderson, the Coast Guard’s deputy commissioner of operations. Henderson spoke to iPolitics from the Halifax International Security Forum, where security and defence officials had gathered last weekend. Janet Silver has that story.

The Rogers campus in Toronto, pictured on March 15. (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star)

Following a five-day public hearing, Canada’s telecommunications watchdog is unlikely to rule on the proposed Rogers-Shaw deal until the new year. Since Monday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been hearing from critics and supporters of the proposed purchase of Shaw Communications by Rogers Communications. In addition to raising prices for customers, critics say the deal will reduce access to local news and hinder competition in Canada. Today, Rogers and Shaw said the deal would be in the best interest of Canadians. “With Shaw and Rogers joining forces, Canadian consumers will enjoy more choice,” Ted Woodhead, Rogers’ senior vice president, told the CRTC. “There will be stronger competition against Bell and Telus and the global digital-media giants.” Jeff Labine has that story as well.

The Rebel to Rabble Review: Challenger ‘mystery’ flights

The Sprout: Cargill meat plant to lock out union employees

Net Zero: Canada isn’t meeting climate targets: report

In Other Headlines:

‘Leave immediately’: Joly urges Canadians to flee Ethiopia (Reuters)
Ontario logs highest daily COVID-19 case count since beginning of September (CTV)
Wilkinson says aid program to cut methane emissions will be reconsidered (CP)
Finance says federal deficit hits nearly $69B over first half of fiscal year (CP)
Possible Huawei ban has telecoms asking Liberals about taxpayer compensation for new equipment (Postmedia)


Shortly after the new coronavirus variant was deemed a highly transmissible virus of concern, the Biden administration joined the EU and Canada in announcing plans to ban incoming travel from South Africa and seven other countries. Those will kick in on Monday, and impact South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Dr. Anthony Fauci said today the U.S. is “rushing” to get data on the new variant, and that American and South African scientists would be meeting today to share information so that officials can test for the variant.

For its part, South Africa says the travel bans are unjustified.

Also today, amid a build-up of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border for the second time this year, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia there would be ramifications for invading.  “If Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs, that would have consequences,” he said. “This military buildup is unprovoked and unexplained. It raises tensions and it risks miscalculations.” Stoltenberg noted that “there is no certainty about the intentions of Russia” but recognizing “this is a military buildup by a country that has invaded Ukraine before.” Members of NATO are set to meet next week and will decide then on a next move. That story from The Associated Press.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says the build-up is a sign Russian “representatives” are planning to overthrow his government next week.

In a telephone briefing today, Karen Donfried, the State Department’s assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs told reporters during a phone briefing that all options are on the table in how to respond to Russia’s “large and unusual” troop buildup. “As you can appreciate … there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options,” Donfried said.

In Other International Headlines:

Stocks and oil prices drop as the world reacts to new coronavirus variant omicron (NPR)
‘Go through, go,’ Lukashenko tells asylum seekers near EU border (Al Jazeera)
WTO postpones major meeting over COVID-19 concerns -sources (Reuters)
Biden sets out oil, gas leasing reform, stops short of ban (AP)
Channel disaster: Kurdish woman is first victim identified (BBC)
U.S. lawmakers visit Taiwan; China conducts military patrols (Politico)

In Opinion: 

: New federal body needed to manage just transition to clean fuel

The Kicker:

Finally, we leave you with Nova Scotia’s top doc’s appearance on 22 Minutes this week. It turns out Dr. Robert Strang can navigate a pandemic AND tell a savage Saskatchewan joke.

Have a great weekend.

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