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How sick Canadian travellers are masking COVID-19 symptoms to get through airport screening –



Canadians desperate to return home from abroad in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic are easily circumventing air travel screening aimed at preventing sick and infected passengers from boarding planes, CBC News has found.

Some are simply hiding symptoms from officials to ensure they can get back home.

CBC News has found a number of instances where sick travellers have boarded airplanes back to Canada, no matter the risks of spreading infection.

“Now is just the worst time to be coughing, sneezing or reporting any kind of symptom at an airport,” said one university student in Toronto, who flew home from Spain on March 14. She admitted she purposely hid her symptoms and the fact she’d been suffering a fever hours before boarding the flight. 

“It wasn’t information you volunteered. So I just stayed quiet about it.”

CBC has agreed to withhold her name to shield her from backlash, given that she travelled two days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced anyone with symptoms would be barred from boarding return flights, and given that she was only officially diagnosed with COVID-19 after she got home.

WATCH | Canadian woman talks about decision to fly home despite feeling ill

Sick air travellers hide COVID 19 symptoms to board flights home. 6:35

She said she wasn’t sick when she bought her ticket, but developed a fever the day before her flight and took precautions to wear a mask and gloves on the plane to prevent the spread of any illness.

Although she didn’t technically flout the rule set out by the government, her experience reflects that of many Canadians stuck abroad during the pandemic.

“My priority was just being able to get on the first flight back to Canada. You know, no matter what the consequences were,” she said, citing pressure from her university, the Canadian government and family, who all implored her to come home.

Her case demonstrates just how weak Canada’s screening of air travellers is, given it relies solely on voluntary reporting of symptoms.

Even the “enhanced screening” adopted in recent days amounts to a simple series of health questions put to air travellers and does not involve any physical detection, testing or thermal screening now being used in many other countries.

Temptation ‘to lie’

Jane Salhani of Aurora, Ont., which is north of Toronto, flew home from Munich on Sunday aboard an Air Canada flight where an obviously sick traveller had passengers and attendants on edge.

“This one woman, she was wearing a mask. She coughed the entire nine hours. I mean, everybody on that flight was extremely unnerved by it,” Salhani told CBC News. (Disclosure: Salhani is related to one of the authors of this article.)

Some travellers who have come through Canadian airports like Toronto’s Pearson International have observed that COVID-19 screening measures are more comprehensive in other countries. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Salhani recalled airline officials asking passengers whether they felt ill or had fever before boarding, but figured it isn’t terribly effective in keeping sick people off planes.

“I’m sure the temptation is there to lie, because you want to get home to your own health system … if you’re not feeling well, right? You don’t want to be stuck in a foreign country,” she said.

Now at home in self-isolation with her husband, Salhani wondered whether airline and public health officials will be in touch about potential exposure. She noted the sick passenger was taken aside and interviewed on arrival at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, as all arriving passengers were handed pamphlets instructing them to self-isolate for 14 days.

“I’m sure we got on that plane healthy,” Salhani said. “I’m not sure we got off that plane healthy.” 

Reliance on honour system

The World Health Organization issued an advisory in mid-February calling on all countries to question all travellers about symptoms, and to implement “detection of ill travellers” at airports and border crossings to stem the COVID-19 outbreak.

Canada, facing criticism over a lack of screening both at international airports and upon arrival in Canada, imposed new orders to all airlines last Wednesday to prevent travellers with COVID-19 symptoms from boarding international flights to Canada.

But the “health check” imposed by Transport Canada — billed as “detection of ill travellers” — is a total honour system that simply requires airline staff to observe boarding passengers and ask them if they’ve felt ill or have had a fever.  

Both Air Canada and WestJet said they have barred some passengers from boarding flights, but declined to say just how many. 

CBC has spoken to many travellers who’ve recently returned to Canada who noticed the new questions posed when they boarded their flight homes.

Eugene Haslam recently returned to Montreal from Paris. (Facebook/Eugene Haslam)

Eugene Haslam, who flew home to Montreal from Paris on Sunday on Air Transat, said the airline had signs, overhead announcements and staff asking questions before boarding. But he acknowledged this approach will only work if travellers are honest.

He said that he understands the need to “act accordingly” and not put “others at risk,” but acknowledged that other travellers think differently.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Screw it! I don’t care!’ And that’s where the problem lies,” Haslam said.

‘We don’t have superpowers’

The situation has air crews and their unions calling for more safeguards to prevent sick travellers from boarding aircraft.

“We’re being told daily that there are people coming back ill. [There are] people coming back, you know, wearing masks, protecting themselves, but they’re still ill passengers,” said Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada Component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

WATCH | Union president describes some of the anxiety airline workers feel

Sick travellers onboard pose threat to flight attendants says union 3:12

He said flight attendants are currently exempt from the 14-day self-isolation rules and that many are worried they are being unfairly exposed to the virus.

“We don’t have superpowers. We need to realize that we’re humans, too. And we can contract the same things that a passenger can on board,” he said.

Canada has not yet adopted measures to test arriving passengers for the coronavirus, as is being done in at least a dozen countries around the world.

Commonly these are temperature checks or thermal screenings to detect passengers with a fever, and it’s being done in countries like the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Indonesia.

A health quarantine officer scans the temperature of Chinese students with a thermal scanner upon their arrival at Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin International Airport in Palembang, Indonesia. (REUTERS)

A number of Canadians flying home from Mexico this past week report that airport authorities in that country are screening all passengers for fevers using thermal-sensing cameras, noting Canada has no such technology in place.

‘Dangerous’ working conditions

Signs of stepped-up screening at the four Canadian airports that are still receiving international flights — in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal — include increased signage and additional Canadian Border Services Agency officers asking passengers questions.

Flight attendants say its simply not enough.

In recent days, they have been provided N-95 masks and gloves, but one flight attendant for Air Canada who works on transatlantic flights said she and her colleagues are being put at risk.

“Why aren’t we forced to quarantine when we get back home?” she asked. (CBC is not naming her as she is not authorized to speak publicly.)

Flight attendants wear masks while travelling through the international departures area at Vancouver’s airport. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“If I’ve caught something, I pass it on to many, many more!” she wrote in a text message. “We are just going to keep spreading it all over the world again.”

“As much as I’m proud to repatriate all my fellow Canadians, I’m also getting scared to work in these dangerous conditions.”

With files from Matthew Pierce

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The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Jan. 17 –



Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic walks at Dubai Airport after the Australian Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa to play in the Australian Open, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi (REUTERS)

Health Canada approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 therapeutic

The good news for Canadian health practitioners and burned-out hospital staff is that Health Canada has just approved Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid for treatment in COVID-19 patients.

The downside is, as explained in Friday’s newsletter, demand far exceeds supply even in the United States, where the drug is manufactured.

The approval came Monday, weeks after positive results in a clinical trial were published in which Pfizer said the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 per cent compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19. While the trial involved unvaccinated individuals, further studies have shown desired effects for vaccinated people.

Experts say an effective pill that’s easy to self-administer at home for those infected could relieve some of the pressure on the health-care system and change the trajectory of the pandemic, although it’s unlikely to be of major impact for this Omicron wave.

“This is welcome news — we have one more tool in our toolbox,” said federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. “But no drug, including Paxlovid, can replace vaccination and public health measures.”

Canada has placed an order for an initial quantity of one million treatment courses but at a Monday briefing, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the federal government is expecting “supply at the beginning will not be great anywhere.”

Health Canada is authorizing it to treat adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progressing to serious disease, including hospitalization or death.

The drug is intended for use as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of the start of symptoms. The treatment consists of two tablets of nirmatrelvir and one tablet of ritonavir taken together by mouth twice per day for five days.

Paxlovid could be useful for people who have underlying conditions that increase the risk of hospitalization and death related to the coronavirus, such as heart disease or diabetes.

Health Canada has warned, however, that the product shouldn’t be used while a patient is on any of a long list of other drugs, including common medications used to treat erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol and seasonal allergies, among others.

Pfizer is promising to churn out 120 million courses of the treatment by year’s end. That means in the absence of new, vaccine-evading coronavirus variants — a big if — next fall and winter could look a lot different in Canada in terms of the impact of COVID-19.

From The National

Parents weigh risks, benefits ahead of return to in-class learning

23 hours ago

Duration 2:26

Parents in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia are weighing the risks and benefits of sending their children back to the classroom as in-person learning resumes despite the Omicron surge. 2:26

Hundreds of air passengers broke in-flight mask rules in 2021

The issue of passengers flouting COVID-19 rules on airplanes has been in the spotlight in recent days after passengers on a Sunwing chartered flight from Montreal to Mexico were seen partying and vaping while not wearing masks.

Between January and December 2021, Transport Canada received 1,710 reports of passengers refusing to wear masks. In the vast majority of those cases — 1,594 — passengers refused to wear masks or to resume wearing them after they had finished eating or drinking.

In seven cases, passengers were not allowed to board the plane; in 108 cases, passengers who had boarded were ordered to leave the plane.

Figures collected by Transport Canada show that 959 of those cases resulted in enforcement action, ranging from warning letters to fines.

Wesley Lesosky, head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ airline division, which represents 14,000 flight attendants with nine Canadian airlines, said staff are in the uncomfortable spot of being the “mask police” in addition to their other duties.

“We have had incidents that have escalated to a physical nature,” he said. “We have had issues of obviously being sworn at, we have had issues of being spit at. We have had issues of just disgruntled people. We have had people [who] are just ticked off with the mask policy.”

Unruly behaviour has been a frequent problem in the U.S. Last week, three people were charged in connection with an incident in September at New York’s JFK Airport, where a security guard was allegedly assaulted as a pandemic-related exchange escalated.

The wearing of a mask to mitigate COVID-19 has been politicized in the U.S., with several Republican governors overruling mask mandates imposed by local authorities in their states. Travellers from all 50 states, however, have to abide by the mask mandate imposed in the pandemic if they enter an American airport or board a plane.

According to a CNN report last week, citing Federal Aviation Administration data, there were 5,981 reports of unruly passengers logged in 2021. Of those, 4,290 — nearly 72 per cent — were for mask-related incidents.

From 1995 to when the pandemic began in 2020, the FAA averaged 182 such incidents a year, per the report.

In contrast to Canadian data, which indicate there were more incidents as 2021 progressed, the first six months of the year in the U.S. had far more reports of adverse behaviour than the second half of 2021. That could partially be explained by the fact that, in general, the U.S. has had more business activity open and fewer societal disruptions than Canada, including airline travel.

Another wrinkle in the U.S. concerns Southwest Airlines, whose CEO has been the most vocal among the big airlines in criticizing the mask mandate. Unionized flight attendants at Southwest have just filed a grievance, indicating some pilots are not masking up in accordance with the FAA guidelines.

How the flouting of COVID-19 restrictions by leaders damages credibility and trust

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have been on apology blitz after a woeful week of revelations concerning hypocritical behaviour in regards to the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.

First, Johnson acknowledged public “rage” after it was learned he attended a May 2020 garden party involving dozens of Downing Street staff, held in contravention of COVID-19 restrictions that Britons were supposed to be following at the time. Then just two days later, Johnson’s office offered a separate apology to Queen Elizabeth over a pair of parties held by Downing Street staff on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021 — a time when pandemic restrictions prompted the Queen to sit alone in her grief in St. George’s Chapel the following day.

It will be up to the British people and the Conservative Party to see if Johnson can ride out the firestorm, but experts say the contradictory, rule-defying behaviour by rule-makers undermines key pandemic messaging and does little to build trust with the people paying attention to what their leaders say and do.

Maya Goldenberg, an associate professor of philosophy at Ontario’s University of Guelph who studies vaccine hesitancy, said such erosion of trust is a problem for people trying to lead the way out of a pandemic.

“The leadership in this pandemic, both politicians and scientists, needs a lot of public buy-in to successfully implement pandemic containment measures,” she said in an email to CBC News.

“When the leadership act as if the rules don’t apply to them, they damage public trust in the leadership — and by doing that, they undermine their own ability to lead effectively.”

Monica Schoch-Spana, who has worked in public health emergency management for more than two decades, said she fears that the repeated coverage of such stories may potentially be “reinforcing people’s lack of trust in government.”

Schoch-Spana, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said the stories about leaders who aren’t abiding by the rules are becoming fodder “for a proxy war for people in how they feel about politicians and governments more generally.”

They can also lead to distortion, as for every story about California Gov. Gavin Newsom or the Dutch king, dozens of political leaders have seemingly been modelling the correct behaviour for their constituents.

Closer to home, Canada has seen some of its own political leaders doing what they wanted, not as they urged others to do in the name of public health.

The list includes premiers going places they told others not to visit or holding gatherings that were questionable under the rules in place, as well as politicians taking verboten trips outside of Canada in the middle of the ongoing global health emergency. As recently as last month, a Liberal MP was removed from parliamentary committee duties after taking a non-essential trip outside the country.

Today’s graphic:

Find out more about COVID-19

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

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See the answers to COVID-19 questions asked by CBC viewers and readers.

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Snowstorm strands motorists, grounds planes in eastern U.S., Canada



A winter snowstorm creeping up the East Coast of the United States into Canada on Monday was expected to dump more than two feet (60 cm) of snow in some areas, grounding planes and stranding motorists.

More than 4,200 flights in the United States were canceled or delayed on Monday, according to FlightAware. Nearly 90,000 homes and businesses between Georgia and Maine lacked electricity, according to PowerOutage.US.

Traffic was snarled in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, as the snowstorm brought visibility to near zero, shut subway lines and left motorists stranded on local highways for hours.

Buses were at a standstill and passing pedestrians helped push cars up a street at a main commuter route in central Toronto. The region was predicted to get up to 2 feet of snow, and an extreme weather warning was in effect. Authorities asked residents to stay off the roads.

In neighboring Quebec, the weather caused traffic accidents, including pileups involving dozens of vehicles that forced authorities to close some highways, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC).

In the eastern United States, officials likewise urged residents to stay off snowy roads on the holiday honoring slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Ashtabula, Ohio, on Lake Erie, recorded 27 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service, while parts of New York state, Pennsylvania and North Carolina received more than 20 inches.

Atlanta saw its first snow in four years, according to the NWS, and some regions in North Carolina had record snowfalls.

As the storm swept north, northern Maine and New Hampshire were still due for another 2 to 4 inches of ice and snow Monday evening, the weather service said. Blustery conditions were predicted across much of the region into Tuesday.

(Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru, Andy Sullivan in Washington, Daniel Trotta in California and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler, Heather Timmons and Paul Simao)

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Doctors say claim that China's 1st Omicron case came from Canada isn't based on science – CBC News



Doctors say an allegation out of Beijing that China’s first Omicron case may be linked to mail received from Toronto should be treated with deep skepticism.

Chinese health authorities said earlier Monday that a case of Omicron in Beijing may have spread from a package received from Canada. They urged citizens to stop ordering parcels from abroad as the opening of the Winter Olympics approaches.

“I find this to be, let’s say, an extraordinary view,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference Monday.

“Certainly [it’s] not in accordance with what we have done both internationally and domestically.”

Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said health officials “cannot rule out the possibility” that the patient was infected by goods from overseas carrying the virus.

The centre claims the package in question was routed through the U.S. before arriving in Hong Kong and then its final destination in Beijing.

But medical experts say the theory that such a shipment could spread the virus contradicts what recent studies say about COVID-19’s ability to survive on surfaces.

“I don’t think any of that’s based on science,” said Dr. Anna Banerji, an associate professor of pediatrics and infectious disease at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

She said the airborne Omicron variant “would never survive” on an envelope shipped across the world.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say studies show an “inability to detect viable virus within minutes to hours” on porous surfaces, like paper.

An April 2020 study published in The Lancet journal concluded that “no infectious virus could be recovered from printing and tissue papers after a three-hour incubation.”

Epidemiologist Dr. Donald Vinh, a professor with McGill University’s division of experimental medicine, said the chance of such a package actually infecting someone is “very, very low.”

“Is it believable or likely or probable that this has happened? And the answer is no,” he said.

Olympics drawing near

China’s claim comes as it tries to clamp down on cases ahead of the Winter Games, set to open in Beijing on Feb. 4.

The Chinese government has introduced strict pandemic control measures — including frequent lockdowns, universal masking and mass testing — in a bid to drive new transmissions to zero. On Monday, the country announced it won’t be selling Olympics tickets to the general public due to concerns about the virus. 

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and now vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he thinks China is getting an excuse ready in case there’s an outbreak during the Olympics.

“If things were to go badly, then they can suggest it came from the outside and not from within China because they’ve made every effort to try and contain, taking a zero tolerance approach, completely shutting down cities up to now,” he said.

Guy St-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he expects to see more finger-pointing if there are outbreaks during the Olympics.

“It is easy for China to blame Canada as there is no way to investigate the issue to say if it is true and if so, did the virus amount really constitute a threat?” he said.

“As China has more and more difficulty with its zero-COVID policy, it will blame foreigners for its predicament.”

Workers wearing face masks to help protect from the coronavirus set up a decoration for the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. (Andy Wong/AP)

The claim about the Canadian parcel comes at a time of heightened tensions between Ottawa and Beijing following China’s imprisonment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for nearly three years — an apparent act of retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Late last month, China’s foreign ministry warned that Beijing’s relations with Canada stand “at a crossroads.”

Robertson said he thinks the Chinese government would like to open up the relationship again.

“But they’re dealing with — in the case of Canada and most western countries — public opinion which has shifted dramatically over the last couple of years and is now highly suspicious of the Chinese, particularly around its human rights record,” he said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the news reports out of China “comical.”

“Stories like this remind us that from the beginning of the pandemic, some of the news and reporting out of China could not be trusted,” he said.

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