Nigerian living in Calgary frustrated with Omicron-inspired travel ban
Alaba Idowu travels to Nigeria every second month or so from Calgary because he runs a business there. Each time he travels he takes five COVID-19 tests that totals 25 in his last five trips.
He's fully-vaccinated and hasn't tested positive once.
He says protocols have gotten even more strict lately with a test required within 24 hours of leaving Nigeria and another when arriving back in Canada along with a required quarantine in a government facility. He doesn't have a problem with these, but there is one added step he has to take: stopping in a third country to do a test.
"I have a scheduled trip later this month, it's year end and I have to travel," said Idowu. "So I have to plan that I have to stopover somewhere else to do a COVID test after doing a test less than 24 hours before making my trip."
On November 30th the Canadian government announced border measures to reduce the risk of the importation and transmission of COVID-19 and its variants in Canada related to international travel. Its list of countries with prohibitions include Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
But Idowu says Nigeria has a population of 204 million people with only a handful diagnosed with the new COVID-19 variant of Omicron.
"My frustration is huge," he said. "First of all at the time that Canada announced Nigerian ban, Nigeria only had less than five cases of Omicron right, at that time there are many other countries in Europe in fact, right now, as I speak, United States has more cases than Nigeria."
Idowu says that's not right and wants to see those bans lifted because he says they are not scientifically driven.
"So if you have policies in place to control transmission from Nigeria, put the same policy in place to control transmission from the whole of Europe," he said. "Canada has not placed any restriction or a ban on UK, on Denmark and Germany or Italy, or the United States."
Idowu says the African travel ban is having a huge economic impact on those countries and in his mind the ban equates to a form of racism.
"I need the Prime Minister to speak to Africans and explain to Africans why he believes that Africans should not think that they're being racially profiled," he said.
The chief public health officer of Canada says different criteria are used for flagging countries of concern and in some instances Canada detected cases before countries of origin detected cases.
Dr. Theresa Tam said on December 4th "this tells us that there may be some uncertainty in the countries' overall epidemiologic situation and their ability to detect and respond and these countries also have very low vaccine coverage."
"Another parameter we've looked at is our positivity rate on arrival in Canada," she said. "For example from Egypt and Nigeria we now have confirmed Omicron cases, all of our cases reported so far have been from Nigeria so these are the several criteria that we use to pay particular attention to certain countries."
Infectious disease physician Dr. Daniel Gregson is also a medical microbiologist and associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine. He says the Omicron variant is steeper than others and appears to spread quicker than Delta. Dr. Gregson says travel bans are one way to slow transmission until the scientific community has time to understand it.
"It was a year ago that Delta was first identified in in India and spreading there," said Dr. Gregson. "It took a good six months before we started seeing Delta outbreaks in Canada, we've identified this Omicron variant a couple of weeks ago and we're now seeing it everywhere and part of that is because we don't have a travel bans on now that we had a year ago."
Dr. Gregson says it's important to learn how effective vaccines are going to be on Omicron and how current treatments will be impacted for patients.
A new Leger and Association of Canadian Studies poll found four out of five Canadians approve of banning travel from countries where the Omicron variant is present.
It shows 65 per cent of Canadians and 57 per cent of Americans think the Canada/U.S. borders should be closed for a period of time due to Omicron and given the spread of the variant, the pole found that Canadians (78 per cent) are more in favour than Americans (63 per cent) of their government accelerating plans to introduce a booster/third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for certain populations.