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Science VS Political Jibberish

December 24, 2020

Editorial

The following is from Canada's National Post newspaper published 22/12/2020 (Source https://nationalpost.com/opinion/comment-canada-seems-to-have-an-open-house-sign-at-all-our-major-airports?fbclid=IwAR07ZxUwuvsZMMLBLHsV37dmYYg3e-J4aOdtijRR8tlz5Si0txTsRFzD4zk)


Is Canada doing enough at its international borders to protect the country from potentially COVID-19 positive travellers spreading the virus after they arrive? Premier Doug Ford of Ontario certainly doesn’t think so. At a freewheeling news conference Monday, Ford lashed out at the federal government for its poor management of people arriving at Canada’s major airports, especially Toronto’s Pearson. He suggested that arriving passengers were not sufficiently screened and that many, he claimed up to 25 per cent, were not observing the 14-day mandatory quarantine.


One feature of Canada’s response to COVID-19 that is puzzling is the lax approach at the country’s international airports. This stands in stark contrast with the Canada-U.S. land border, which has essentially been sealed since March for all but the most essential of purposes.
When I returned from India in the spring, the lax approach at Pearson was evident. Even at that early stage of the crisis, many countries had restricted travel from hot spots such as China, and were rigorously screening and contact tracing those who had arrived. Meanwhile, arriving in Toronto, passengers were asked perfunctory screening questions and the follow-up was non-existent in many cases. Based on conversations I have had recently with some passengers who have returned from overseas, this situation has not changed much. Such laxity at this stage of the crisis is an indictment of the federal government’s apparent lack of seriousness in protecting Canada’s borders.


It is not just the poor quality of control at the border, there is also no real control on who is allowed entry. In theory, Canada has strict rules that permit only citizens and permanent residents the right to return. In practice, holders of work permits, student visas, as well as the extended families of Canadian residents have been allowed to enter on compassionate grounds. Contrast this approach with Germany, where, apart from citizens and permanent residents of the European Union (EU), there is a strict and rigorously specified list of who may enter, such as scientists and researchers whose services are indispensable and who cannot perform their jobs from abroad.
Is Canada being compassionate or has it become a chump? After cases in Canada spiked in the fall, the EU took Canada off its safe list of countries whose citizens are allowed to enter, but Canada took no such reciprocal action even though cases in Europe were also going up. The upshot is that it is easier for a German to visit Canada than it is for a Canadian to visit Germany.


It is not just advanced G7 countries such as Germany that are doing much better than Canada at the borders. Even a developing country such as India has much more rigorous control on who is allowed to enter. Passengers who have proof of a negative COVID-19 test no earlier than 72 hours are exempt from quarantine. Passengers who don’t have a negative test have the option of a test on arrival at India’s major airports, and if they’re negative, they’re exempt from quarantine. But, in the absence of either of these, passengers are subject to a mandatory seven-day “institutional quarantine” in a government-approved facility where compliance can be monitored and an additional seven days of home quarantine ordered. Likewise, Germany has had COVID-19 testing on arrival at its airports in place at least since July while Canada has only rolled out pilot testing in Toronto and Calgary about six weeks ago.


Meanwhile, Canada seems to have an “open house” sign at all of the major airports, by continuing to allow passengers to enter even from known hot spots, including India and some European countries, without any testing and with quarantine and contact tracing whose enforcement is a joke at best. Ironically, it’s easier for a grandparent in India to be reunited with their family in Canada than it is for a grandparent in Ontario to be reunited with their family in Quebec.
In response to Ford’s biting criticism, Canada’s Health Minister, Patty Hajdu, has claimed that only 1.3 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario are linked to passengers arriving from abroad. One could argue that this statistic is an underestimate, given how sophisticated the contact tracing would need to be, not just on international but on all connecting domestic flights and ground transport, to accurately capture anyone infected either directly or indirectly from someone arriving from abroad.


Be that as it may, given the scale of the pandemic, if simple and proven measures such as widespread testing on arrival and controlling who is allowed to enter to reduce the risk of new infections originating from abroad could eliminate 1.3 per cent of new cases, why is the federal government failing to protect Canadians by neglecting to implement such basic measures?


So "Is Canada being compassionate or has it become a chump? " Perhaps the later rather than the former.

More baffling is this, "After cases in Canada spiked in the fall, the EU took Canada off its safe list of countries...." Brussels did the right thing. While Canada did nothing in response.
The most egregious comment came from Canada’s Health Minister, Patty Hajdu, who has claimed that "only 1.3 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario are linked to passengers arriving from abroad."
What utter nonsense. Clearly it is a number pulled out of a political hat.

No country in particular Canada that has a poor contract tracing record has the ability to be so scientifically precise about virus transmissions.


More proven science and less political gibberish from self serving politicos everywhere - not just in Canada - is necessary right now to overcome this pandemic. 


Thomas A. Tass

Editor