Canada Ottawa working to get women’s field hockey team home from South Africa after Omicron travel ban
Canada clamps down on Omicron COVID-19 variant. Experts say it’s likely ‘already here’
Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529 was designated by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern earlier Friday after reports of the virus' spread across South Africa.Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Friday afternoon that the Canadian government would be introducing a total of five measures to limit the spread of the new variant — including entry to foreign nationals who’ve travelled through a handful of African countries in the past 14 days.
The federal government is working hard to get a Canadian field hockey team stranded inback home. The situation has arisen as a result of the .
Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge called the team on Saturday to offer reassurance no stone is being left unturned, says Jenn Beagan, coach of the Field Hockey Canada junior women's national team.
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"She also followed up with our team manager — for about a 20-minute conversation — just to let us know the highest levels of government are aware that we're here, and working to get us home," Beagan told Global News in an interview from the northwestern city of Potchefstroom.
"At the moment we're just in a holding pattern."
The junior women's national team landed in South Africa on Nov. 23 to train — ahead of the league's world cup on Dec. 5 in Potchefstroom.
Within hours, said Beagan, emails and messages started pinging her inbox, warning about an infectious newvariant in South Africa called Omicron.
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Canada's first two cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant of concern were confirmed Sunday in Ottawa. The variant – which may be more transmissible – was first identified in South Africa, where it coincided with a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, but it's unclear where it first emerged. Here's what we know about it so far: WHAT IS OMICRON? Omicron is a new variant of COVID-19 that was designated a "variant of concern" by the World HealthWHAT IS OMICRON?
"Then we went off to training with the girls, and within a couple of hours we were then getting messaging that borders were closing down and things were actually progressing quite quickly," said Beagan.
The new variant wasby the World Health Organization on Nov. 26.
That same day, several countries including Canada, Great Britain, India and Japan,on travel from several southern African nations where the mutation was discovered.
The Women's Junior World Cup was cancelled. The team has been stuck in Potchefstroom ever since.
Global News has reached out to Global Affairs Canada and the minister of sport for comment and will provide an update when a response is received.
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, Field Hockey Canada said "[we're] working to get all our athletes and coaches home safely."
"Parents are aware of the situation and everyone is working together to bring our team home."
Field Hockey Canada supports the decision of the FIH to postpone the Women’s Junior World Cup. At this point, FHC is working to get all our athletes and coaches home safely. parents are aware of the situation and everyone is working together to bring our team home.
— Field Hockey Canada (@FieldHockeyCan)
Beagan said the B.C.-based team's 20 members and five staff have been training daily, keeping themselves occupied as they wait for news from Ottawa.
"We've been told to hold for 48 hours as some of the other governments — the E.U., the U.K. — make decisions on whether or not they're going to accept flights landing from South Africa," she explained.
"Canada is so far away we have to land in another country mid-route. There are no direct flights."
A chartered flight is possible, she added, but all commercial flight options must be exhausted first.
Omicron variant: Canada expands travel ban, seeks booster guidance
Canada is restricting travel from three more African countries and seeking guidance on COVID-19 boosters amid the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Canada is restricting travel from three more African countries and seeking guidance on COVID-19 boosters amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.
The team is relatively isolated in Potchefstroom as junior teams from other countries had not arrived for training, said Beagan.
Spirits are good overall, she added, but the cancellation of the world cup has been "devastating."
The team raised more than $160,000 to fund its participation — after becoming the first Canadian team to win gold at the Junior Pan American Games in Chile in August.
"It's not just the cancellation of the world cup but all of the emotions around all the hard work it took to get us here," she said.
Canada has nowof the Omicron variant. When the field hockey team returns, members will be required to take a COVID-19 test and quarantine at a designated hotel until they receive a negative result.
Under the new travel restrictions, foreign nationals who have travelled through southern Africa in the past 14 days are prohibited from entering the country.
The Canadian ban affects South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
—with files from Aaron D'Andrea
Why exempt U.S. from new travel restrictions? Feds point to low Omicron transmission .
According to the new travel rules, anyone coming into Canada from a country other than the U.S. will have to be tested for COVID on arrival, then isolate and await their results. "Those measures are temporary for us to learn more about this variant, to learn more about its severity, and we will continually adjust based on the advice and the information that we get," Alghabra said, speaking during an interview with The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson. "There are very little reports of community transmission (of Omicron) in the United States. If that changes, we will change our measures.