(Reuters) - Canada will stop issuing visas to people from the three West African nations where Ebola is widespread, the government said on Friday.

The federal citizenship ministry, explaining the move, said in an official document that "the introduction or spread of the disease would pose an imminent and severe risk to public health".

About 5,000 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this year in the worst Ebola outbreak on record. Fears rose that the disease could spread beyond the region after a few cases were diagnosed in Spain and the United States.

Canada, which has not reported any cases of Ebola, is following in the footsteps of Australia, which on Tuesday became the first rich nation to issue such a ban. The country's official in charge of the response to Ebola said the move was medically unjustified.

Under the new regulations, which come into force immediately, Canada will not process visa applications from foreign nationals who have been in an Ebola-affected country within the previous three months.

U.S. President Barack Obama is so far resisting pressure to impose similar travel restrictions.

The Conservative government's decision drew fire from Canada's official opposition New Democratic Party.

"The experts we’re relying on to fight Ebola are saying this is not the right approach," the party's health critic Libby Davies said in a statement.

Codie Taylor, the chief spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.