Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau urges Canadians to cancel all holiday travel plans

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians on Friday to cancel all vacation travel inside and outside the country, warning that the federal government could be forced to bring in travel restrictions that would make it harder for people to return home.

“People should not be planning non-essential travel or vacation travel outside of the country,” Trudeau said, speaking at his COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa. “Particularly because as I said a few days ago, we could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning.”

Trudeau said he discussed with provincial premiers on Thursday a number of options to further limit travel if necessary.

“The bottom line is this, it’s not the time to travel either internationally or even across the country,” Trudeau said.

“With spring break coming, people need to hunker down, stay home, make sure we kill this second wave of the virus so that we can get to the spring and the increase in the millions of doses of vaccines that will be arriving in Canada in the best position possible.”

People line up and check in for an international flight at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The spike in COVID-19 cases in January has put a real strain on hospitals, Trudeau said.

“For Ontario in particular, the situation is extremely serious,” he said.

“That’s why our government is deploying two federal Mobile Health Units to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).”

This will provide up to 200 additional hospital beds, and free up space for people who need intensive care, Trudeau said.

The federal travel warning comes amid growing concerns about new variants of COVID-19 that spread faster and also appear to be more deadly, according to some recent research.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new English variant of COVID-19 may be associated with a higher level of mortality.

“We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast (of England) – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he told a news briefing.

Research suggests the new variant spreads between 30 per cent and 70 per cent faster than others, and could be around 30 per cent more deadly.

Patrick Vallance, the U.K. government’s chief scientific advisor, cautioned that the new findings were based on a preliminary assessment of early data.

“These data are currently uncertain and we don’t have a very good estimate of the precise nature or indeed whether it is an overall increase, but it looks like it is,” Vallance said.

The English variant has now spread to about 50 countries, including Canada. Some studies warn the new variant could become the dominant variant in Canada by March, leading to another big spike in infections.

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