Canada joined several European nations in halting flights from the U.K. on Sunday in an effort to prevent a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus from spreading to this country.
CBC News obtained a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by Transport Canada stating that inbound flights transporting passengers from the U.K. will be suspended indefinitely as of midnight tonight. The restriction doesn’t apply to cargo flights or aircraft landing for safety reasons.
The decision followed an afternoon meeting of the Incident Response Group (IRG), a group of cabinet members and senior government officials.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair all attended the meeting, according to Trudeau’s office.
New coronavirus strain
The IRG meeting was convened as several European nations restricted travel from the U.K. after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed on Saturday that a new variant of the coronavirus that is more than 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains is driving a rapid rise in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the U.K.
Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy all blocked flights from the U.K. — some for 48 hours and others for longer. Germany called a special crisis meeting of EU countries scheduled for Monday to co-ordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.
Johnson also announced strict lockdown measures for the city of London and much of the southern U.K. because of the existence of the strain. Those measures would see non-essential shops close and household mixing banned just days before Christmas celebrations.
Johnson said the new strain of coronavirus, while more contagious, doesn’t appear to cause more severe infections or a higher rate of death. There is also no evidence that existing vaccines wouldn’t provide immunity against it, Johnson said.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock added to the alarm when he said “the new variant is out of control.”
The U.K. recorded 35,928 further confirmed cases on Sunday, around double the number from a week earlier.
Canada has severely restricted travel into the country since March. Broadly, only citizens, permanent residents and specialized foreign workers — most of whom travel from the U.S. — are granted entry. There are some exceptions, including for close family members of citizens and permanent residents.