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Vast majority of travellers entering Canada allowed to skip 14-day quarantine – CBC.ca

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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.”

Vehicles cross the Peace Bridge into Canada last March in Buffalo, N.Y. The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential traffic in both directions since then due to the pandemic. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press)

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. 

Infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said that, ideally, Canada should have started tracking all quarantine-exempt travellers since the start of the border closure in late March. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

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.

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Once Canada gets a vaccine, what happens next? Doctor answers our COVID-19 questions – Global News

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Canadians have been asking this question for months now — when will we get the vaccine?

Epidemiologist Dr. Isaac Bogoch recently joined The Morning Show to speak to that question and to share all the latest COVID-19 updates.

On Tuesday, Moderna gave the world good news when it announced that its vaccine is up to 94.5 per cent effective.

However, Dr. Bogoch says the promising results also call for optimistic caution. The data still needs to be peer-reviewed and made accessible to experts.

READ MORE: Britain approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for use, 1st in world to do so

Moderna applied for vaccine approval in the U.S. and the U.K. However, the company has been gradually releasing data to Health Canada for its approval.

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The infectious diseases expert believes the approval process will be fair and transparent.

READ MORE: Canada in talks with coronavirus vaccine makers ‘every day’ as approvals near: Anand

While we still don’t know when will we receive the vaccine, Bogoch says prioritized groups like people in long-term care homes and front-line workers will be among the first to get the vaccine when it is available.

He says a significant number of deaths come from long-term care homes and giving them vaccines will reduce the stress on the health-care system.

As for concerns about side-effects of the vaccine, Bogoch says people receiving the two-shot vaccine may experience fatigue, fever and a sore arm. “It is important to inform people on what they can expect,” he says.

READ MORE: How to naturally boost your immune system during cold and flu season

While Canada, and indeed the world, waits for vaccines amid continued restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, lockdowns have been working elsewhere — in countries like France and the U.K. — to reduce infection.

Bogoch says “we can all acknowledge that they’re terrible for mental health, they bad for physical health, they take a tremendous economic toll,” and urges Canadians to stay patient in these lockdowns because they can get the cases under control despite the challenges.

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“Unfortunately, when health-care systems are stretched beyond capacity, that’s really the last straw,” he added.

To find out more about Canada’s process of getting vaccines, watch the full video above. 

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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CDC shortens quarantine recommendation for U.S., raising questions in Canada – CBC.ca

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The recommended quarantine time for close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case is being reduced by up to a week in the United States, but while some of Canada’s health experts say a similar approach could be useful here, others aren’t so sure.

The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday it had shortened the recommended length of quarantine after exposure from 14 days to 10 — or seven days with a negative test result.

Health Canada was still recommending a 14-day quarantine period as of Wednesday, but Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, says cutting that time in half would be beneficial.

“It would be super important for the sake of incentivizing people to actually quarantine after exposure,” he said.

“And there’s a lot of different things that could theoretically open up — getting health-care workers back to work, getting kids back to school — a lot of ways where this could ease the burden of potential exposure in society.”

The CDC had previously said the incubation period for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could extend to 14 days, but the organization now says most people become infectious and develop symptoms between four and five days after exposure.

Chagla says the 14-day window was likely inspired from SARS data, where the incubation period was longer.

While isolation and quarantine are sometimes used interchangeably, Chagla says there’s a difference in the terms. Isolation is for those who have tested positive, while quarantine is for people who may or may not actually have the virus, like close contacts of positive cases or those travelling into Canada. Isolation recommendations for positive cases vary, but are typically 10 days after symptom onset.

Typical course of infection

Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, says a change in quarantine guidance reflects our evolving understanding of COVID-19.

“If you’re exposed, it takes a couple days for you to become infectious, so [seven to 10 days] should be enough to tell whether you’ve got the virus,” Tuite said. “But of course, that’s assuming your experience is reflective of the typical course of infection.”

The key to the CDC’s new guidance for Tuite is having the option to end quarantine at seven days with a negative test result. She suspects that’s in place to stop people who have the virus but no symptoms from ending the quarantine period too early.

A positive test at Day 7 would mean that person should continue to isolate, Tuite said, while a negative result would mean they could safely end quarantine, knowing enough time has passed since exposure to confidently assume they won’t still get sick.

Testing capacity challenges

Dr. Don Sheppard, the founder and director of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4), says the CDC’s plan makes sense scientifically, but there would be logistical issues in testing every COVID contact in Canada who wanted to end their quarantine at Day 7.

“It’s impossible to do that,” he said. “It’s either 14 days of proper isolation, or it’s seven days with a negative test, and right now our system cannot offer seven days plus testing to the public at large.”

WATCH | Could the 14-day isolation period be shorter? (At 01:18:45):

Canadians put their questions about the worsening COVID-19 pandemic to experts during an interactive two-hour special, hosted by Adrienne Arsenault and Andrew Chang. 1:39:27

Testing capacity does exist in certain situations, Sheppard said, like for health-care workers and other front-line staff that need a quicker quarantine to get back to work. He cautioned, however, that taking a test on Day 7 still means isolating for an extra day or two while awaiting results.

Quarantine also needs to be done solo in order to work, Sheppard added, warning that the CDC guidance isn’t meant as a loophole for holiday gatherings if your family isolates together for seven days before an event.

Supports for people to quarantine

He used an example of military recruits in the U.S. who were told to quarantine for 14 days before reporting to camp. A handful of positive tests (0.9 per cent) were caught upon arrival, suggesting true quarantine hadn’t been followed.

Those recruits were sent home while the rest underwent another group quarantine. When tested again two weeks later, the positivity rate had grown to 1.3 per cent.

“Why? Because there were people incubating and they turned positive. And those people infected others in their groups,” Sheppard said.

“So if you don’t do strict, single-person isolation, you don’t actually break the cycle of transmission, you just pass it around in your group.”

Tuite says that further illustrates the usefulness of a shortened quarantine period.

A mother with young children, or someone who shares a small apartment with another person will find it harder to properly quarantine for longer periods, she said, as will someone who can’t afford to take a full two weeks off work.

“It really comes down to having the means to do it,” she said. “Can you survive for two weeks if you’re not getting income? Can you isolate in a household with multiple people?

“We need to have support in place so that people can quarantine, and that doesn’t change whether it’s for a week or 14 days. But it becomes much more challenging when it’s for longer periods.”

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CDC shortens quarantine recommendation for U.S., raising questions in Canada – CBC.ca

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The recommended quarantine time for close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case is being reduced by up to a week in the United States, but while some of Canada’s health experts say a similar approach could be useful here, others aren’t so sure.

The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday it had shortened the recommended length of quarantine after exposure from 14 days to 10 — or seven days with a negative test result.

Health Canada was still recommending a 14-day quarantine period as of Wednesday, but Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, says cutting that time in half would be beneficial.

“It would be super important for the sake of incentivizing people to actually quarantine after exposure,” he said.

“And there’s a lot of different things that could theoretically open up — getting health-care workers back to work, getting kids back to school — a lot of ways where this could ease the burden of potential exposure in society.”

The CDC had previously said the incubation period for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could extend to 14 days, but the organization now says most people become infectious and develop symptoms between four and five days after exposure.

Chagla says the 14-day window was likely inspired from SARS data, where the incubation period was longer.

While isolation and quarantine are sometimes used interchangeably, Chagla says there’s a difference in the terms. Isolation is for those who have tested positive, while quarantine is for people who may or may not actually have the virus, like close contacts of positive cases or those travelling into Canada. Isolation recommendations for positive cases vary, but are typically 10 days after symptom onset.

Typical course of infection

Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, says a change in quarantine guidance reflects our evolving understanding of COVID-19.

“If you’re exposed, it takes a couple days for you to become infectious, so [seven to 10 days] should be enough to tell whether you’ve got the virus,” Tuite said. “But of course, that’s assuming your experience is reflective of the typical course of infection.”

The key to the CDC’s new guidance for Tuite is having the option to end quarantine at seven days with a negative test result. She suspects that’s in place to stop people who have the virus but no symptoms from ending the quarantine period too early.

A positive test at Day 7 would mean that person should continue to isolate, Tuite said, while a negative result would mean they could safely end quarantine, knowing enough time has passed since exposure to confidently assume they won’t still get sick.

Testing capacity challenges

Dr. Don Sheppard, the founder and director of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4), says the CDC’s plan makes sense scientifically, but there would be logistical issues in testing every COVID contact in Canada who wanted to end their quarantine at Day 7.

“It’s impossible to do that,” he said. “It’s either 14 days of proper isolation, or it’s seven days with a negative test, and right now our system cannot offer seven days plus testing to the public at large.”

WATCH | Could the 14-day isolation period be shorter? (At 01:18:45):

Canadians put their questions about the worsening COVID-19 pandemic to experts during an interactive two-hour special, hosted by Adrienne Arsenault and Andrew Chang. 1:39:27

Testing capacity does exist in certain situations, Sheppard said, like for health-care workers and other front-line staff that need a quicker quarantine to get back to work. He cautioned, however, that taking a test on Day 7 still means isolating for an extra day or two while awaiting results.

Quarantine also needs to be done solo in order to work, Sheppard added, warning that the CDC guidance isn’t meant as a loophole for holiday gatherings if your family isolates together for seven days before an event.

Supports for people to quarantine

He used an example of military recruits in the U.S. who were told to quarantine for 14 days before reporting to camp. A handful of positive tests (0.9 per cent) were caught upon arrival, suggesting true quarantine hadn’t been followed.

Those recruits were sent home while the rest underwent another group quarantine. When tested again two weeks later, the positivity rate had grown to 1.3 per cent.

“Why? Because there were people incubating and they turned positive. And those people infected others in their groups,” Sheppard said.

“So if you don’t do strict, single-person isolation, you don’t actually break the cycle of transmission, you just pass it around in your group.”

Tuite says that further illustrates the usefulness of a shortened quarantine period.

A mother with young children, or someone who shares a small apartment with another person will find it harder to properly quarantine for longer periods, she said, as will someone who can’t afford to take a full two weeks off work.

“It really comes down to having the means to do it,” she said. “Can you survive for two weeks if you’re not getting income? Can you isolate in a household with multiple people?

“We need to have support in place so that people can quarantine, and that doesn’t change whether it’s for a week or 14 days. But it becomes much more challenging when it’s for longer periods.”

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