OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada is introducing extra measures to screen people who have spent time in Britain to check for a fast-spreading mutated COVID-19 variant, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told a briefing on Tuesday.
Separately, health officials said they had seen no sign yet of the variant, which emerged first in Britain and prompted many countries to introduce travel bans.
Although Ottawa imposed a 72-hour block on flights from Britain on Sunday, Blair said more steps were needed to handle people who had been in the country and then flown to Canada via Europe or the United States.
Visitors to Britain during the previous two weeks prior to arrival in Canada will be referred to health officials for additional assessments, screening and questions. They will also have to go into quarantine for 14 days.
“We believe (these measures) are among the strongest in the world,” Blair said, adding that those who lied about having not been in Britain could face imprisonment and big fines.
Fewer than 2% of coronavirus cases in Canada have been linked to international travel, Blair said.
A second wave of coronavirus is sweeping across Canada and authorities have only just begun to inoculate the population using Pfizer’s vaccine. Health Minister Patty Hajdu said a decision on whether to approve Moderna Inc’s vaccine should come very soon but gave no details.
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, on Monday announced a partial shutdown of some businesses starting Dec. 26 and banned most indoor gatherings.
Cases continue to rise steadily and chief public health officer Theresa Tam said she was particularly worried about the increasing number of people being hospitalized at a time when health care workers are exhausted.
“It’s going to be much more difficult for us to manage in the next few months,” she said.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren. Editing by Jane Merriman)