UCP MLAs banned from leaving Canada over the holidays
Federal government advised Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel
Alberta United Conservative Party MLAs have been forbidden from travelling outside the country for the holidays.
CBC News obtained a memo sent from government whip Whitney Issik explaining the expectations for members.
"I am directing that Members of Government caucus will not be permitted to travel internationally at this time," she wrote on Thursday.
"I understand that this directive may impact family members and holiday plans, but we must show leadership as we learn more about the Omicron variant."
This week, the federal government strongly recommended against international travel in the wake of a new strain of COVID-19 with more mutations than previous iterations of the virus.
"To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly — now is not the time to travel. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst," said federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.
"The situation abroad is already dire in many places and it's going to get worse very quickly, so we're afraid for what could happen to [travellers] if they leave Canada."
While more study is being done on the new variant, there are early indications that the Omicron variant is more transmissible.
On Friday, CBC News confirmed Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage has tested positive for COVID-19 but it's not known if it's a variant.
"She is isolating at home and following all of the Alberta Health COVID-19 protocols. She experienced extremely mild symptoms and is now feeling fine," said Alberta Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Henshaw in an e-mailed statement.
As of Thursday, 119 cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in Alberta.
Interprovincial travel permitted
A week ago, Issik had sent a first memo informing MLAs they would be permitted to travel since there was no ban on international vacations from Ottawa at that time.
That guidance from the whip has now changed. However, interprovincial travel will still be permitted for the MLAs so long as they follow the public health restrictions in those jurisdictions.
The memo says the directive against international travel will remain in place until further notice.
"COVID-19 is unpredictable and we must all be prepared to change plans accordingly," Issik wrote.
Last holiday season, several UCP MLAs and one cabinet minister were found to have traveled outside Canada while Albertans were being asked to socialize only with their households and avoid international travel.
The discovery led to the resignation of minister Tracy Allard and an admission from Premier Jason Kenney that he should have issued a clear directive against travel to his caucus.