More than five million arrivals into Canada have been allowed to skip the 14-day quarantine requirement put in place when the country closed its borders to non-essential travel in late March, the Canada Border Services Agency estimates.
The data — which was compiled by the CBSA at the request of CBC News — shows that more than 80 per cent of the 6.5 million total arrivals into Canada between March 31 and Nov. 12 were exempt from the quarantine meant to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
The arrival numbers include repeat entries by the same person.
The federal government exempts travellers from quarantine when they’re providing services deemed “essential.” Those exempt include flight crew and emergency response workers, as well as truck drivers who cross the border multiple times.
Truck drivers alone accounted for close to half of the total entries into Canada.
5.3 million exemptions is best guess
The CBSA calculated a total of 5.3 million quarantine-exempt entries, but said the number is only an estimate because the federal government didn’t start to track everyone in that group until July 31.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said that before July 31 the CBSA collected data on quarantine-exempt travellers crossing the border for statistical purposes, but only when it had the “operational capacity” to do so.
Starting on July 31, PHAC changed its policy and mandated that everyone in that group be tracked, so their contact information could be collected for enforcement purposes.
“Individuals with an exemption from federal quarantine must continue to meet the public health measures in place,” spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau said in an email.
Those measures include wearing a mask, social distancing and rules laid out by local health authorities.
Epidemiologist Colin Furness said that, ideally, the government should have tracked all quarantine-exempt travellers since the start of the border closure in late March.
“I don’t think we needed to have COVID on our shores before thinking about how do we manage our borders,” said Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and professor at the University of Toronto. “There’s just a lack of imagination and a lack of preparation.”
PHAC didn’t explain why it waited four months into the border closure before it started collecting contact information for quarantine-exempt travellers.
The agency has collected contact information for the travellers required to quarantine, for enforcement purposes, since March 31. They include Canadians vacationing abroad and foreigners visiting immediate family in Canada.
Over the past seven months, the percentage of COVID-19 cases linked to international travel has ranged from 0.4 per cent in May to 2.9 per cent in July, according to PHAC.
Over the past two weeks, 47 international flights entering Canada were found to have had at least one confirmed COVID-19 case onboard.
Exemptions ‘critical to our economy’
Jarbeau said the large number of people exempt from quarantine is necessary so that workers “critical to our economy and infrastructure” can do their job after crossing the border.
She said only those essential workers who declare they have no COVID-19 symptoms are allowed to skip quarantine.
Furness said he understands why essential workers are exempt from quarantine, but takes issue with certain cases, such as business executives who get to bypass the requirement.
Over the past two months, CBC News uncovered three cases where a top executive of a large American or global company travelling to Canada for business was exempt from quarantine.
The federal government said two of those exemptions were a mistake and vowed to fix the problem. It declined to comment on a third case involving the president of U.S. operations for global shipping giant UPS, citing the federal Privacy Act.
“It’s unacceptable,” said Furness. “I don’t understand why we need business travel at all. We’ve got Zoom. We’ve got the internet.”
Testing pilot project
Epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan said it takes just one infected traveller to spark an outbreak.
“It’s possible that a traveller could show up, attend like a church or something and then be the trigger for a superspreading event,” said Deonandan, a professor at the University of Ottawa.
Both he and Furness suggest that routine COVID-19 testing of essential workers crossing the border would help mitigate potential risks. Testing is not currently a requirement for any traveller entering Canada.
“If we catch some positives that way and prevent somebody from becoming a spreader, that’d be great,” said Deonandan.
PHAC said it’s currently exploring the concept as part of a pilot project offering COVID-19 tests to travellers at two designated border crossings in Alberta.
The agency said that travellers who must quarantine and those who are exempt are both being offered tests. Essential workers who cross the border on a regular basis, such as truck drivers, will be offered a test every three to four weeks.
Former B.C. resident participating in AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial – Global News
A former Vancouver resident is sharing his first-hand experience as one of the thousands of people who’ve agreed to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trials around the world.
Peter Wearing, who now lives in Arizona, is participating in the Stage 3 trial for the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The U.K.-based drug maker’s vaccine is seen as an important part of the vaccine solution, as it does not need to be transported at supercooled temperatures, and is being offered at a fraction of the price of its rivals.
Both elements make it particularly promising for the developing world.
“I felt that I was healthy and I’ve had vaccines in the past and never had adverse reactions, so I felt that I’ll do my part,” Wearing told Global News.
Canadian in charge of Moderna’s international vaccine manufacturing
“My first visit I signed lots of paperwork, they took four vials of blood, I had a physical from a doctor.”
He was then given two shots, two months apart — the second just two days ago. Wearing isn’t sure if he’s getting the actual vaccine, or is in a control group getting a placebo.
He said some people do get reactions typical of a flu vaccine, such as rashes or fevers, but he did not.
“You don’t even really feel it going in, it’s that fine of a needle. The next day your muscle is a bit tender,” he said.
Oxford and AstraZeneca reported in November that their vaccine appeared to be 62 per cent effective in people who received two doses, and 90 per cent effective when volunteers were given a half dose followed by a full dose.
Federal government, provinces and Canadian Armed Forces ramp up COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan
It later emerged that they’d discovered the half-dose advantage due to a manufacturing error that saw some people get a lower dose unintentionally. The company may conduct a future clinical trial specifically around the half-then-full dose program.
Wearing said it was important for him to participate because he still remembers an era when children commonly got polio. Vaccine development was critical to eradicating that disease.
“I have a lot of friends that are anti-vaxxers. I mean, they’re pretty serious about it, they’ve even challenged me on this,” he said.
“About five years ago I took the time to read what they said is their research, and then I read the counter-research. I’m a science guy, I like science, and in the end I came down on the side of traditional science.”
Wearing said he’s given a two-year commitment to the project, and doctors will continue to take blood samples to test Wearing for antibodies to the virus.
But he’s also been told that if he is, in fact, in the placebo group he will be given the actual vaccine if and when it wins approval in the U.S.
“The fact that this is coming out so fast, less than a year, is really exciting,” he said.
Canada has preordered 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but it is unclear when it could win regulatory approval.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
'People should not go out' — Pandemic hitting Windsor-Essex harder than ever, top doc says – Windsor Star
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Roughly 1,000 of those cases were reported since Nov. 1
Approximately 25 per cent of recent cases have no epidemiological link, Ahmed said, meaning those individuals do not have a known exposure source, like a household contact with COVID-19 or exposure through a known workplace outbreak. In other words, a quarter of the region’s cases are being attributed to community spread.
The other most common infection source is household contact.
“When someone is infected, they are potentially infecting pretty much everyone else in their house,” Ahmed said. “Maybe, yes, you are healthy. Maybe you can recover from the virus, but some people cannot…. It’s something to be mindful of in terms of our responsibility in our activities when we are not at home.”
The case rate for Windsor-Essex is currently 73 per 100,000 population, far exceeding the 40 case threshold that landed the region in the “red zone” with tightened restrictions on social gatherings, among other things.
Wastewater COVID-19 surveillance being performed by a team of University of Windsor researchers shows the prevalence of virus indicators in wastewater — shed by residents in fecal matter — is “clearly surpassing the active cases, so in the next couple of weeks we may see more cases,” Ahmed said.
Last week, approximately 6,500 COVID-19 tests were completed in Windsor-Essex, with about four per cent of those tests coming back positive.
To deal with the increased demand for testing, Erie Shores HealthCare is expanding its testing capacity and adding 50 additional appointments to its schedule, Ahmed said. That announcement comes one day after the top public health doctor expressed his concern over a days-long wait for testing appointments in the region.
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