Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Nov. 28

The World Health Organization on Sunday urged countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant.

WHO criticizes travel bans on southern Africa; more countries confirm omicron cases

Passengers wait to board international flights at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Sunday. The World Health Organization on Sunday urged countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant. (Sumaya Hisham/Reuters)

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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday urged countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant.

WHO's regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions.

"Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," Moeti said in a statement. "If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations."

Moeti praised South Africa for following international health regulations and informing WHO as soon as its national laboratory identified the omicron variant.

A passenger is tested for COVID-19 at O.R. Tambo International Airport on Sunday. (Sumaya Hisham/Reuters)

"The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended," Moeti said. "WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of COVID-19."

Cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world Sunday, and many governments rushed to close their borders even as scientists cautioned that it's not clear if the new variant is more dangerous than other versions of the virus.

While investigations continue into the omicron variant, WHO recommends that all countries "take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures which can limit its possible spread."

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, emphasized that there is no data yet that suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous COVID-19 variants.

"I do think it's more contagious, when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa," Collins said on CNN's State of the Union.

WATCH | What's known about the omicron variant:

What’s known about the omicron variant

2 years ago
Duration 3:01
The World Health Organization has declared a new variant of concern called omicron, first identified in South Africa. Scientists say there are a large number of mutations in the omicron variant, which means it could be more infectious and cause more severe illness.

Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday — among the most drastic of the many travel curbs being imposed as nations scrambled to slow the variant's spread. Scientists in several places — from Hong Kong to Europe — have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 omicron cases on Sunday, and Australia found two.

The U.S. plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday.

"With the omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity," Moeti said. "COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions."

WHO said it's scaling up its support for genomic sequencing in Africa so sequencing laboratories have access to adequate human resources and testing reagents to work at full capacity. WHO also said it's ready to offer additional help reinforcing COVID-19 responses, including surveillance, treatment, infection prevention and community engagement in southern African countries.

What's happening across Canada

People wear face masks as they walk through a market in Montreal on Sunday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Two travellers who entered Canada on Tuesday, Nov. 23 have confirmed cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the Ontario government announced Sunday.

"Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation," the statement said.

The news comes after Canada implemented a ban on foreign nationals travelling to Canada who had been to certain countries in southern Africa over the preceding two weeks. That ban went into effect on Friday.

WATCH | Canada's first omicron cases confirmed in Ottawa: 

Omicron variant detected in Canada, says Ontario government

2 years ago
Duration 8:58
The Ontario government has announced that two cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in Ottawa. The two people had recently travelled from Nigeria, a statement read.
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What's happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 261.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus database. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.1 million.

In Europe, thousands rallied in the Czech capital of Prague on Sunday to protest the government's restrictive measures to tackle a record surge of coronavirus infections.

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In Africa, Ghana will ramp up its inoculation campaign next month and make the vaccine mandatory for targeted groups, including all public-sector and health workers, beginning Jan. 22.

In the Americas, Colombia will extend its health state of emergency until Feb. 28 due to the emergence of omicron, its president said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australian police said they expect to charge a 31-year-old woman with arson after she allegedly set fire to the COVID-19 quarantine hotel where she and her two children were staying.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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