Justin Trudeau – Travellers fined for refusing COVID-19 tests at Pearson
Mandatory COVID-19 tests at Pearson airport have found at least 32 cases of the virus, and Peel police have handed out $750 tickets to three international travellers who refused them as the federal government works to get quarantine hotels up and running.
The tests have been required of all arriving passengers from other countries since Monday noon under an Ontario government order aimed at detecting more contagious variants of the virus that could seed a third and more devastating wave of the pandemic with vaccines in short supply.
“Our government’s mandatory testing program will serve as a stopgap until the federal measures are in place,” Alexandra Hilkene, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said Friday.
“While we are glad to see the federal government taking action, we need these measures sooner rather than later to prevent new cases, including variant cases, arriving in Ontario.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced the mandatory hotel quarantines a week ago, told reporters Friday they will be in place “as soon as possible” in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.
Incoming international travellers — who are already required to produce proof of a negative COVID test performed within 72 hours of boarding their flights — will have to stay at their own expense while awaiting test results instead of going straight home to isolate for 14 days as they do now.
The 32 positive cases from Pearson were out of 6,243 tests conducted as of Wednesday evening, according to the latest figures available. It is not yet known if any are variants of concern.
Further analysis of positive COVID-19 tests in the province released Friday identified three additional cases of the B.1.1.7 variant originally detected in the United Kingdom, raising the number of known cases to 155.
There is one confirmed case of the B.1.351 strain first found in South Africa, in a Mississauga resident who had not travelled internationally. Health officials say there are likely more cases involving both variants given community spread. Computer modelling forecasts the B.1.1.7 strain will dominate in March.
That complicates the picture for Premier Doug Ford with more schools resuming in-class learning on Monday and the government planning for the eventual easing of lockdown restrictions on businesses, with an announcement early next week as a 28-day state of emergency expires Tuesday. Ford said reopenings will be on a regional basis, with low-infection zones first.
There were 1,670 new cases reported Friday, about half the level that prompted Ford to issue a stay-at-home order early last month amid concerns spread was out-of-control and hospitals becoming overwhelmed.
“We’re moving toward reopening the economy,” Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said Friday as he unveiled a two-year, $115 million skills development fund to help workers land jobs.
Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said he wants to see how the experience in schools goes first and cautioned “we’re still not where we need to be” with the 325 COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units more than double the level where non-emergency surgeries can be performed without constraints.
“We have to stay the course.”
Cases in Ontario, and in the hotbeds of Toronto and Peel, are now roughly the same as when the two municipalities were moved into lockdown restrictions Nov. 23.
Opening too much, too soon without widespread surveillance testing at schools and workplaces risks fuelling the spread of variants that can spread from person-to-person in one-third the time of original COVID strains and could result in daily cases doubling every five to 10 days, experts say.
“It’s a bit of a Russian roulette thing,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.
There are also widespread calls for the province to require all employers to provide paid sick days so essential workers can afford to stay home if they have symptoms. Peel Region, a leading hot spot for the virus, found that 25 per cent of its cases involve people who went to work sick.
Those are the types of measures needed to safely begin reopening the economy until more vaccines come on stream, Furness added.
“We can’t just tread water until summer with everything shut down.”
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