Canada announced plans on Friday to suspend visa applications from residents of Ebola-impacted West African nations, and from people who have traveled to the Ebola zone within the last three months, according to a statement from the country's Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
The new regulations will not affect Canadians who are in West Africa currently. The government said that all Canadians in the region affected by the virus — including health workers in West Africa — will be allowed to return to Canada. According to the ministry's press release, one of the considerations leading to the decision was that, "the introduction or spread of the disease would pose an imminent and severe risk to public health."
The move, which was outlined in the Canada Gazette, the government's official newsletter, concerns all foreign nationals, students, workers, or tourists of any country who have traveled to or through one of the countries identified by the World Health Organization as having widespread and intense transmission of the Ebola virus.
The three countries targeted by the ban are the ones most severely affected by the Ebola outbreak — Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. According to WHO's most recent situation report from October 29, nearly 5,000 people have died from Ebola this year, with 13,567 reported cases of the hemorrhagic fever.
The WHO has confirmed that only five countries — Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, and the US — have reported a case or cases imported from a country with widespread and intense transmissions, which include Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. Canada, like Australia, which imposed similar restrictions on October 27, has so far reported no cases of Ebola. They are currently the only two nations in the western world to apply such restrictive measures. North Korea has staged its own response to the outbreak by imposing an outright ban on all tourists.
Rona Ambrose, the Canadian health minister on Friday defended the government's decision, claiming, "Our number one priority is to protect Canadians."
"We continue to work with domestic and international partners to aid efforts to respond to the outbreak in West Africa, while strengthening our domestic preparedness here at home," he said.
Chris Alexander, Canada's minister of citizenship and immigration announced that, "Canada has been a leader in the international efforts to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The precautionary measures announced today built on actions we have taken to protect the health and safety of Canadians here at home. Our government continues to monitor the situation in West Africa very closely and will continue to act in the best interests of Canadians."
Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, slammed the travel restrictions on Thursday, arguing that closing borders would not stop the spread of the Ebola virus.
On October 27, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon had voiced his concern over the mandatory quarantine imposed by several US states on health workers returning from the outbreak zone.
"Returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity. They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science," he said, adding, "They should not stigmatized for their altruistic devotion. We need them to win this fight."
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