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Omicron: Canada to ban travellers from Egypt over Covid-19 new variant concerns

The decision comes after Dutch officials said the new variant had been in the Netherlands before South Africa had first reported it
An Air Canada aircraft is seen on 10 November 2021 at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, Canada (AFP)

Canada is set to ban travellers from Egypt, along with Nigeria and Malawi, amid increasing concerns about the spread of Omicron, the new Covid-19 variant. 

According to the Toronto Star, the three countries are the latest to be added to a list of seven other countries from which travellers are barred from entry to Canada. More measures are due to be announced on Tuesday, the paper reported. 

The decision comes after Dutch officials on Tuesday said the Omicron variant had been in the Netherlands before South Africa had first reported it.

The variant was found in two test samples from 19 and 23 November, with one having no travel history, suggesting that the variant was already circulating in the Netherlands.

Canada has identified five people with the new variant, at least two of whom were recently in Nigeria, Reuters reported. The western province of Alberta has detected at least one case of Omicron, a spokesman for Premier Jason Kenney told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Last week Ottawa barred travellers who had recently been to South Africa; Namibia; Lesotho; Botswana; Eswatini; Zimbabwe; and Mozambique.

The premiers of Ontario and Quebec, Canada's two most populous provinces, are calling on Ottawa to impose tougher measures and more testing for the virus.

A spokeswoman for Omar Alghabra, the transport minister, declined to comment on the Toronto Star report. A spokesman for Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Omicron concerns

On Thursday, South African scientists said they had detected a new B.1.1.529 variant, and said it had at least 10 mutations, compared with two for Delta and three for Beta variants. 

The World Health Organisation declared the recently discovered Omicron strain to be a "variant of concern", spurring a series of differing travel bans from various countries.

OmanQatarEgyptIranSaudi Arabia; the United Arab EmiratesBahrainMoroccoKuwait; and Jordan are among the Middle Eastern countries that announced bans on some travellers from several African nations after reports of the new variant. 

Egypt announced on Friday that it had detected a case of the new variant in the country.

Switzerland on Saturday widened quarantine requirements to stem the spread of the Omicron variant to travellers arriving from countries where cases have been detected, including the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt, and Malawi, its health ministry said. On Friday, it banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region.

Belgium said on Friday it had detected the first announced case of the new variant in Europe in an unvaccinated person returning from Egypt via Turkey. 

The European Union has proposed member states stop all flights to and from southern Africa following the variant's discovery, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

The UK has also banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries, asking returning travellers to quarantine.