While the Canadian government has implemented strong measures to ensure fully vaccinated foreign travellers coming into Canada won’t be a significant source of COVID-19 spread, those protections will certainly not eliminate the risk, medical experts say.
“Certainly the optics aren’t ideal, as we are in a fourth wave and cases continue to climb across the country,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force.
Under the measures, travellers must be fully vaccinated with a Canadian-approved vaccine at least 14 days prior to arriving and have received a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their scheduled flight or their arrival at a land border crossing — requirements that, while not perfect, are “very very good” at ensuring people coming don’t have COVID-19, Bogoch said.
“It’s not foolproof, it’s not a hermetically sealed border, we’ll still have cases of COVID introduced. It’s just going to be fewer than if we had no protection whatsoever,” he said.
On Tuesday, Canada opened its borders to fully vaccinated non-essential foreign travellers from across the globe, allowing them to skip the 14-day quarantine requirement. Canada is currently in the midst of a fourth wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the delta variant. However, most of the country’s cases and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.
Low test positivity rate at border
According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the volume of travellers has increased in recent months, but the border test positivity rate for COVID-19 has remained low. For example, between Aug. 9 and 26, the positivity rate for fully vaccinated travellers randomly selected for testing at border crossings was 0.19 per cent (112 positive tests out of 58,878 completed), the CBSA said.
Still, Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases expert at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, expressed concern that the federal government formulated the open border policy for foreign travellers back in early July, when the delta variant wasn’t as much of an issue in Canada.
Vinh said that plan was based on the assumption that those fully vaccinated were not only protected from infection but would not be a major source of transmission. Instead, the delta variant has shown that fully vaccinated people can still be infected and still transmit the virus, he said.
Meanwhile, the full rate of breakthrough cases — those in which a person has been infected despite being fully vaccinated — is still unknown, he said.
“If we had no or low rates of community transmission right now, you could argue that our perhaps more relaxed approach could be acceptable,” Vinh said. “We already have high, high, high rates of transmission across the country. So now what we don’t want to do is be literally adding fuel to the fire.”
The government has introduced special requirements for travellers arriving from India or Morocco. Due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, all direct passenger flights from India have been suspended until Sept. 21 and from Morocco until Sept. 29. Currently, air passengers from those countries can only enter Canada if they show proof of a negative test taken in a different country and depart from that country to come to Canada.
‘Viruses do cross borders’
Dr. Marek Smieja, scientific director of McMaster HealthLabs and a professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, suggested there should be some concern about the potential of imported variants. He noted that the alpha and delta variants were both imported into Canada from abroad.
“Viruses do cross borders. And the question is: What’s the most prudent way of allowing a reasonable amount of travel?” he said. “There’s no doubt there will be new variants.”
But the best protection is to eliminate the domestic cases, so if the local COVID-19 levels are very low, health officials will recognize new variants coming in, he said.
“The way you pay attention to imported diseases to get rid of local disease,” Smieja said. “I would love to get to the point with COVID where the only cases you see are imported outbreaks.”
The federal government’s measures, in terms of what’s practical, are a “pretty reasonable reassurance” that foreign travellers will be a very low risk, he said.
In terms of potential exposure to COVID, a foreign traveller who’s fully vaccinated and tested coming into Canada is likely safer than those many people encounter on a daily basis, Smieja said.
Neighbour poses higher risk
“I would argue that the neighbour in the supermarket who isn’t wearing their mask properly above their nose and actually hasn’t been vaccinated is a higher risk than the person crossing a border,” Smieja said. “I actually think it is a prudent thing to be making it easier for people to travel, particularly for those who are fully vaccinated.”
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University, agreed that it’s more important to focus on the pandemic’s domestic situation.
With foreign travellers, he said, there’s always going to be a risk, and some breakthrough cases, but the government has come up with a good compromise.
“The bottom line is we are going to have to do this at some point in time, and there will be another variant. The world is not completely immunized by any means,” Chagla said.
“We’re taking a calculated risk, we’re following data … to see that, yes, no cases are being generated in Canada or not very many are being generated in Canada as a result of this [foreign traveller policy].”
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca
U.S. President Joe Biden received his COVID-19 booster shot on Monday, days after federal regulators recommended a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for Americans aged 65 or older and approved them for others with pre-existing medical conditions and high-risk work environments.
“The most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated,” Biden said before getting the booster. He said he didn’t have side-effects after his first or second shots.
Biden, 78, got his first shot on Dec. 21 and his second dose three weeks later, on Jan. 11, along with his wife, Jill Biden.
Speaking on Friday after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer booster, Biden told reporters, “I’ll be getting my booster shot. It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot. “
Biden emerged as a champion of booster doses this summer, as the U.S. experienced a sharp rise in coronavirus cases from the more transmissible delta variant. While the vast majority of cases continue to occur among unvaccinated people, regulators pointed to evidence from Israel and early studies in the U.S. showing that protection against so-called breakthrough cases was vastly improved by a third dose of the Pfizer shot.
Over 182 million Americans have already done the right thing and are fully vaccinated as of today. <br><br>To the other 70 million eligible Americans who have yet to get their first shot: get vaccinated. It can save your life. <a href=”https://t.co/V5pz14zBQP”>pic.twitter.com/V5pz14zBQP</a>
Pushback from WHO on boosters
But the aggressive American push for boosters — before many poorer countries have been able to provide even a modicum of protection for their most vulnerable populations — has drawn the ire of the World Health Organization and some aid groups, which have called on the U.S. to pause third shots to free up supply for the global vaccination effort.
Biden said last week that the U.S. was purchasing another 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine — for a total of one billion over the coming year — to donate to less well-off countries.
Vice-President Kamala Harris, 56, received the Moderna vaccine, for which federal regulators have not yet authorized boosters — but they are expected to in the coming weeks. Regulators are also expecting data about the safety and efficacy of a booster for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot soon.
At least 2.66 million Americans have received booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine since mid-August, according to the CDC. About 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 through the Pfizer shot. U.S. regulators recommend getting the boosters at least six months after the second shot of the initial two-dose series.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, 79, a polio survivor, encouraged Americans to get vaccinated and revealed he had also received a booster dose Monday.
“Like I’ve been saying for months, these safe and effective vaccines are the way to defend ourselves and our families from this terrible virus,” he said.
— From The Associated Press, last updated at 4:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
The pressure on Alberta and Saskatchewan’s health-care systems continues to grow amid COVID-19 surges, with both provinces hitting new records on Monday.
In Alberta, health officials reported an unprecedented 312 patients in intensive care units (ICUs), the vast majority of whom have COVID-19. Doctors have warned that triage protocols would be activated in a worst-case scenario, and some say patient care is already being affected.
“It’s not just unvaccinated patients who are suffering; it’s vaccinated patients who are suffering, it’s everybody,” Dr. Aisha Mirza, an ER doctor in Edmonton, told CBC News.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan reported 289 people with COVID-19 in hospital on Monday, breaking a record set the day before. Of those, 63 are in intensive care, tying the record first reported on Saturday.
Premier Scott Moe said his government has not asked the federal government for military or health-care workers to support the COVID-19 battle in hospitals, but has discussed other areas of potential assistance.
Ottawa is assisting in Alberta after it made a formal request. It will help with air-lifting patients to other provinces, and by sending ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.
People in Alberta and Saskatchewan are dying from COVID-19 at about quadruple the rate as people in the rest of Canada.<br><br>(Data source: <a href=”https://t.co/YE16bv8AtH”>https://t.co/YE16bv8AtH</a>) <a href=”https://t.co/U7GRmbFkkT”>pic.twitter.com/U7GRmbFkkT</a>
— From CBC News, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday evening, more than 232.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million.
In the Middle East, Jordan’s royal palace says Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II has tested positive for COVID-19 and is displaying “mild symptoms.” The palace said in a statement that King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, the 27-year-old crown prince’s parents, have both tested negative but will self-quarantine for five days. All three members of the royal family have been vaccinated.
In Europe, President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said France would give 120 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries, doubling an earlier pledge, French news agency AFP reported.
In the Americas, Chilean authorities announced the end of a state of emergency in force since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, following a sharp decrease in cases. The state of emergency had allowed the government to impose nighttime curfews and forced quarantines on hard-hit districts amid the worst of the outbreak.
Cuba has begun commercial exports of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, sending shipments of the three-dose Abdala vaccine to Vietnam and Venezuela. Cuban scientists have said the vaccines are more than 90 per cent effective against illness, though — like all vaccines — less so against mere infection.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan plans to lift its COVID-19 state of emergency, which covers 19 prefectures, in all of the regions at the end of September, broadcaster NHK reported on Monday. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he discussed easing measures with relevant ministers on Monday and would seek the views of a government panel of advisers on Tuesday.
Thailand’s COVID-19 task force approved a plan to procure a combined 3.35 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, a spokesperson said. The country will also waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and nine regions beginning Nov. 1 to vaccinated arrivals, according to authorities.
In Africa, Tunisia will entirely lift its nightly curfew against COVID-19 beginning Saturday, the presidency said, after about a year in force.
— From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 6:15 p.m. ET
Huge homecoming parties result in arrests, fines across Canadian college towns – CTV News
On several big Canadian campuses Monday, the morning chatter wasn’t about classwork or assignments. Instead, students traded gossip about some of the huge parties that took place over the weekend.
Thousands of post-secondary students packed the streets in Guelph, Ont., London, Ont. and Halifax on Saturday, breaking liquor laws, COVID-19 restrictions and in some cases, property.
But some students got more than a homecoming hangover for their efforts, as police in Halifax issued tickets and arrested 10 people for public drunkenness. Police in London arrested one person and issued a number of fines. Partygoers in Guelph were limited to tickets and fines.
College town rowdiness may not be new, but it seems public patience has evaporated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Enjoy the fines & upcoming academic discipline hearings you rightly deserve,” Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie tweeted Saturday.
Halifax city councillor Waye Mason blamed the high number of first-year students as a result of the number of high-school graduates who deferred post-secondary studies amid the pandemic.
“You have twice the population of students who have no kind of grounding in adult behaviour in public,” he told CTV National News.
In a news release, Dalhousie University admonished those who attended what it called an “unsanctioned” and “illegal” event, urging them to get tested for COVID-19 and “not to attend classes or general on-campus activities for one week.”
Dalhousie’s student union fired back, insisting the incident was predictable and preventable while criticizing school administration.
“Dalhousie currently has an on-campus dry policy. You’re also not allowed to have visitors in residence,” Madeleine H. Stinson, president of the student union, told CTV National News. “We know students were going to party and Dalhousie created it so that they couldn’t do so on campus.”
Meanwhile, Halifax police are investigating the events of the weekend and said it could result in charges. Dalhousie has also threatened to fine or even to expel students who participated in the party.
Canada seeks to attract U.S. frequent flyers with perks on Air Canada
Canada is trying to use the lure of travel perks to convince America’s frequent-flying elite to fly north on Air Canada, as the country steps up efforts to revive crucial traffic from the United States, a Canadian official said.
COVID-19 has battered travel from Canada‘s largest tourism market. During the first half of 2021, Canada had only about 178,000 overnight arrivals from the United States, compared with 6.8 million during the same period in 2019, according to government data.
To help reverse that decline, government tourism body Destination Canada on Monday rolled out its first campaign targeting U.S. frequent flyers, in partnership with the country’s largest carrier.
It is part of broader, C$14 million ($11.2 million) efforts by the tourism commission to boost traffic after Canada recently opened its borders to vaccinated travellers. It is not clear how much the specific frequent flyer campaign will cost.
“This is super-focused in terms of our ability to reach frequent flyers,” Gloria Loree, Destination Canada‘s chief marketing officer told Reuters, ahead of the launch.
Under the plan, up to 20,000 U.S. frequent flyers with carriers like American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co and Delta Air Lines could get matching status when flying Air Canada north of the border.
Delta declined to comment and American Airlines did not immediately respond.
Southwest, which does not serve Canada directly, said by email that the government arm’s support contributes to the industry’s collective efforts “to restart substantive air travel.”
Frequent-flyer status gives travelers perks like priority boarding that would normally cost a premium fare or a fee.
While status-matching is common among airlines, Destination Canada said this is the first time a tourism organization has used the practice to attract tourists to their country.
“This is the push to get them coming to Canada,” Loree said.
Eligible U.S. frequent flyers who book and travel north on AC before Jan. 15, 2022, will keep their status with the carrier for all of 2022, she said.
It comes as countries ease restrictions on international travel, with the United States set to reopen in November to vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries.
Loree said funding frequent-flyer status matching is no different from other incentives paid for by Destination Canada, such as a separate campaign this year with Air Canada‘s rival, WestJet Airlines.
Loree said the goal is to restore routes from the United States, while trying to attract travelers who will return to Canada.
In April, hard-hit Air Canada received an estimated C$5.9 billion ($4.7 billion) government aid package with the country gaining a stake of roughly 6% in the carrier.
While Canada‘s high vaccination rate could reassure tourists, the cost of the country’s COVID-19 PCR test requirements for arrivals could dissuade some travelers, said Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University.
Loree said targeting U.S. frequent flyers is a plus because they are largely accustomed to those requirements.
“They’ve figured out how to travel,” Loree said. “So we want them to consider Canada as their next trip.”
Air Canada shares closed up 3.48% in Toronto trade.
($1 = 1.2652 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in ChicagoEditing by Denny Thomas, Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)
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