Justin Trudeau – John Ivison: Prepare for dose of reality — vaccines don’t guarantee a quick return to normal | National-Perspectives | Opinion
When Justin Trudeau outlined new travel restrictions earlier this week, he urged Canadians to make one last effort to contain the pandemic.
“We just need to hang in there for a few more months. We have mass vaccinations coming this spring that are really going to change the posture we have to take as a country,” he said.
Such is the pre-occupation with vaccines, few people have looked beyond the race between infection and injections.
The impression left by the prime minister is that once Canadians have been vaccinated, life will get back to normal.
But that is not what the Public Health Agency of Canada is advising people and businesses, sources said.
The lifting of restrictions on travel and other activities will be dependent on the prevalence of the disease, not the number of people who have been vaccinated.
Trudeau is set to announce the specifics of the new measures aimed at discouraging non-essential travel on Friday. Sources suggest they will include limiting the number of airports allowed to handle trans-border flights and a requirement that people landing in Canada quarantine in hotels at their own expense for 14 days.
But there are no guarantees that these travel restrictions will be lifted once the bulk of the population receives the vaccine.
Canadians have proven to be remarkably patient in the face of ever-tightening restrictions. But that is because they are labouring under the assumption that their year of austerity and abstinence will end with an injection. If Health Canada approves two new vaccines, the government estimates that 23 million Canadians could be inoculated by the end of June.
But the Public Health Agency has already indicated that a vaccination is not a passport to mobility.
When the government introduced new travel rules on January 7, which required air travellers to show proof of a negative COVID test in the previous 72 hours, it was made clear that proof of vaccination did not invalidate the need for test results.
Early evidence from Israel, which has vaccinated more of its population than anyone, suggests the Pfizer vaccine slows transmission. Yet, there is also data to indicate that vaccinated people can infect others.
Mass vaccinations should see COVID levels fall but no-one knows how quickly.
The news that vaccines will not necessarily end the COVID nightmare has the potential to ruin travel plans for the second half of the year.
Good luck to Trudeau if infection levels remain stubbornly high after mass vaccinations
That is likely to prove devastating for the travel, tourism and hospitality industries, which have been relying on governments to lift restrictions in time for summer when they earn up to 70 per cent of their revenues.
Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, told the House of Commons transport committee on Wednesday that his members in the airline industry are “frustrated, disappointed and, frankly, pretty pissed off at the lack of action on this important file.”
He said that air traffic is at 10 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and new restrictions will make things worse. He said the solution is a national recovery plan for the aviation industry. Airlines have also pushed for testing when passengers land, in order to shorten quarantine times. Alberta has experimented with a pilot project that tests passengers on arrival. If they test negative, they are free from quarantine, subject to a second test a week later.
But beyond tinkering with policy, our political leaders need to speak frankly about the post-vaccination world. Trudeau’s comments that Canadians need only “hang in there” until they are vaccinated will only cause pressure to build. Good luck to him if infection levels remain stubbornly high after mass vaccinations and people who have been inoculated are told they can’t move freely.
In that case, even mild-mannered Canadians are liable to pronounce themselves more than a little upset at being misled by their prime minister.
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