/Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions are an inept, deadly failure – The Globe and Mail

Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions are an inept, deadly failure – The Globe and Mail

An Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner takes off from Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, on Dec. 11, 2019.


The thing about social media is there’s always something out there to enrage you.

For weeks now, there have been people posting stories about how they avoided the “mandatory” hotel quarantine upon entering Canada by simply renting a car and driving across a land border instead. Yes, you get asked a couple of questions, get your temperature checked, but then it’s away you go to self-quarantine.

“What kind of protective system is that?” I thought. Until I read stories detailing how people flying into Canada have simply been refusing to go to a government-sanctioned quarantine hotel – absent repercussions. They may have to pay a small fine. For most, it’s worth it.

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Meantime, for the rest of us watching variants rip across the country, filling up hospitals and intensive care units to overflowing, all we can do is sit back and get more infuriated by the day.

There may not be an aspect of Canada’s pandemic response more pathetic, more inept, more reflective of our overall dismal strategy for dealing with COVID-19 and its deadly variants than our policies around travel, both international and domestic.

Australia, New Zealand and others have taken a military-like approach to dealing with those trying to enter the country from outside, including police and army officers escorting travellers to government vans that take them to a government-operated hotel for 14 days. Here, we rolled out a program to quarantine people for three days, and if they’re COVID-free after that they are allowed to go home. If not, they are moved to another hotel for an additional 11 days.

Unless, of course, they decide the whole thing is a bit much and hop in a taxi, go home and wait for some ticket in the mail that may never arrive.

This week, The Globe and Mail reported that Ottawa has dropped special screening for travellers entering Canada from Brazil. From Brazil! No one in the government or the Public Health Agency of Canada will say why. Isn’t that swell?

Why are we allowing anyone from Brazil to enter this country given the risk they represent? Why wouldn’t we long ago have cancelled flights from a South American nation that is the epicentre of a COVID-19 variant considered far worse than any of the others? A variant that made its way into B.C. and proceeded to rip through the province, not to mention the Vancouver Canucks hockey team.

Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed the case of P.1 in the province was traced to an international traveller. Imagine that. Everybody is saying: “Isn’t this terrible? What a tragedy.” While other countries stopped flights from COVID-19 hot spots such as Brazil and India, Canada maintained its open-arms policy.

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Every week there are more stories of flights, both domestic and international, landing at airports across the country and disgorging sick passengers. According to Health Canada, 33 flights from Delhi, India, landing in Canada this month carried people ill with COVID-19. But by all means Health Minister Patty Hajdu, do go on about how our travel restrictions are some of the strongest in the world.

Canadians applauded government measures to ban travel to sun destinations ahead of March break but didn’t do anything about people coming in from Brazil or India where the virus is raging, or before that Britain and South Africa, where variants were laying waste to vast swaths of the public.

At home, the situation is equally inane. Atlantic Canada got its act together early and has kept the virus largely at bay because it mostly sealed itself off from the rest of the country. Manitoba has tried to do the same with limited success. With record-setting COVID numbers, Ontario on Friday announced some border measures with its two neighbours. It’s something that should have been done months ago.

Everywhere beyond is a freaking gong show. B.C. Premier John Horgan said recently he’s pondering interprovincial travel restrictions, after earlier saying he had a legal opinion they wouldn’t work. He never released that argument, or his reasoning behind his statement that new orders could be imposed now. Everyone knows it’s an empty threat. Nothing will happen. And people from Alberta carrying COVID-19 will continue pouring into B.C. and vice-versa.

I think the best policy for Canadians is this: When it comes to COVID-19 you’re on your own. Pretend you don’t have governments protecting you because in many ways you don’t.