Justin Trudeau – Do COVID-19 variants mean we should crack down on interprovincial travel? One province just did
The “window of opportunity” is closing to contain the spread of new, more contagious COVID-19 variants in Canada, health experts say, which leads to the question:
Are tough restrictions needed on interprovincial travel?
On Tuesday, Manitoba announced it would require travellers from other provinces — as well as returning Manitobans — to self-isolate for 14 days, with a few exceptions, similar to measures implemented in the Atlantic Provinces in the spring. Could the rest of the country be far behind?
“Good for them for putting that line in the sand,” said Kelley Lee, Canada research chair in global health governance at Simon Fraser University, of Manitoba’s decision.
“I think we need to see the premiers taking action. It’s hopefully going to follow with other provinces.
“Let’s assume there are more cases (of variants) out there, the interprovincial restrictions really stop those cases from moving about.”
Lee is a signatory to a petition submitted by a number of virologists, epidemiologists, doctors and public health officials urging the federal government, among other things, to more clearly define what is essential travel, cancel flights to holiday destinations, “strongly consider” designated quarantine facilities for returning travellers, and test all arriving travellers followed by two additional tests during the 14-day quarantine period.
The petition also states that “interprovincial travel should be restricted to essential activities in order to limit the geographic spread of (variants of concern) until baseline surveillance is established and current data reviewed.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once more urged Canadians on Tuesday to avoid non-essential travel out of the country, and also within it, warning that the government is considering tougher restrictions that could be implemented without warning.
His pleas come as the number of cases of COVID-19 variants — which are believed to be more contagious — continues to rise in Canada. A variant has been linked to a massive and deadly outbreak at a Barrie, Ont. long-term-care facility, among other places.
Speaking to CBC Radio’s The Current earlier in the day, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa would support provinces looking to impose tougher travel restrictions.
“One of the ways we protect ourselves against new variants is by getting the spread of COVID down inside the country. The less the virus is spreading, the less the chance that it mutates, and the less the chance that we have new variants take off here,” she said.
“Some provinces and territories have put in place restrictions on travel from outside the province or territory…And those measures have been successful. So where provinces and territories seek to do that, they will have our support.”
Non-essential travel between provinces should be strongly discouraged, but whether actually banning it is feasible is another question entirely, said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and professor in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Ottawa.
For example, he pointed to people who live in one province but work just across the border in another. Would they be subject to travel restrictions when trying to cross the provincial border?
“I think (restrictions) are probably a good idea in general, especially right now when travel should be low to begin with, but you have to ask yourself: Why are people travelling?” he said.
Infectious diseases physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch said “anything that restricts travel in the country and anything that restricts people from moving about and interacting with each other will have incremental benefit,” but it’s unclear how enforcing interprovincial travel restrictions would work.
“Certainly those measures have been shown to help. I don’t think in and of itself they do much, but when coupled with other measures it certainly can help,” he said.
“Are all the provinces going to do it? I honestly have no idea. But if the provinces take that step, you would help facilitate a reduction in cases. You really would.”
The fact that Trudeau still did not announce any new restrictions on international travel at his Tuesday press conference was frustrating to people like Lee who have been urging the government to get tougher now.
Trudeau did confirm last week that one of the measures being considered is mandating returning international travellers to quarantine for 14 days in a designated facility, such as a hotel, at their own expense.
“Please hurry, that’s all I can say,” Lee said. “This is a case where pre-emptive action is really what we need.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Does Canada need tighter travel restrictions to contain COVID-19?