Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association

 

Vaccines and the Border

Vaccines are Opening the World. In Canada − Not so Much

With European nations opening their borders to COVID-vaccinated summer vacationers, and millions of American adults (56* per cent are fully vaccinated) returning to airports and highway travel daily, vaccinated but tied-down Canadians have a reason to ask: “What about me?”  *(CDC, June 20, 2021)

Despite a steady downward trend in new COVID cases and deaths, and steadily increasing vaccinations from a growing pool of suppliers, the most recent extension of the Canada/U.S. border closure to “at least July 21” simply perpetuates the continuing indecision and confusion as to why people who are fully vaccinated by medications approved by Canada, the U.S. and Europe are still being suppressed, despite overwhelming scientific endorsement of their efficacy.

According to the Oxford (University) COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT), which advises governments regarding how different countries have been dealing with the pandemic via indices such as workplace closures, travel bans, stay-at- home restrictions, public gatherings, public events, school closures and other variables, Canada’s restrictions on normal life activities during this pandemic are among the strictest in the world. It notes that on a scale of zero to 100 (100 being the strictest), Canada scored 73.61 at the beginning of June 2021, along with India at 87.96, Cuba at 78.24 and Venezuela at 87.96. At the other end of the scale, the U.S. scored 52.31, France was 54.63, Australia was 44.91 and Israel was 43.52.

No relief in sight

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has time and again declared that Canada will open its border only when it’s best for Canadians and, “not based on what other countries want.” And, as he told a news conference in Ottawa recently, “75 per cent of Canadians need to be vaccinated and daily cases need to continue to decline across the country before his government would be willing to ease travel restrictions.”

That’s some tall order, considering that only 18.6 per cent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated (as of June 19, 2021 − COVID19Tracker.ca); although more than 65 per cent have received their first dose. Consequently, full immunization for the great majority clearly seems some time away, particularly as Canada’s vaccine procurement process has been hobbled from the very beginning, eased to a degree by Canadian seniors who were able to get their vaccines as early as January while wintering in Florida and other sunbelt states.

In the meantime, the Minister of Health’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Advisory Panel has recommended, among other things, ending the hotel quarantine program (which it finds “expensive” and “inconsistent”) and suggests allowing travellers to choose their own modes of quarantine.

The panel also recommends that, when the “non-essential” border crossings are eased, fully vaccinated Canadians be required to show “acceptable proof” of full vaccination, no pre-departure test or quarantine requirement or day-seven test and, for surveillance purposes, a PCR test on arrival at the border station could be required (a home sampling kit would be acceptable for land-border crossings).

Partially vaccinated travellers would require a PCR test within 72 hours of departure or a rapid antigen test within 24 hours of departure. A PCR test on arrival at the border-testing station and a negative PCR test on leaving quarantine would also be required. For recovered travellers presumed immunized, government-approved proof of negative PCR test results and or quarantine location details would be mandatory.

Ironically, within a week of the panel recommending elimination of the hotel quarantine scheme, the Trudeau government announced that it was not only keeping the hotel quarantine program in place, it was increasing the penalties for incoming travellers refusing the hotel quarantines from $3,000 to $5,000.

Does this suggest deterrence? Or punishment?

Little movement on Green Passports

To date, neither the Canadian nor American government has shown any significant progress in developing a vaccine certification mechanism (passport) that would allow secure cross-border travel, just as Europeans have done in recent weeks.

If Canadian passport designers need any models to emulate, or at least study, there is the European Union’s Digital Green Certificate to which most of its member countries (desperate to open up summer tourism) have signed on. It’s slated to be operational throughout the EU in July, and several countries have already enacted it. To Europeans, summer vacations are sacrosanct − to some, these vacations are also crucial for their livelihood.

And then there is Israel’s phenomenally successful Green Pass regimen, which was so popular that it became almost mandatory for entry to anything from synagogues to rock concerts. In fact, it was so successful in ramping up vaccinations (mostly Pfizer BioNTech), that it was phased out three months after it was begun, as it had become redundant.  With more than 80 per cent fully vaccinated, Israelis have shown how COVID can be tamed.

When pressed to consider vaccine passport technologies, Prime Minister Trudeau again punted to the scientists, saying: “I think (vaccination passports) are something people have been talking about for a while. There could be negative consequences… We’re going to follow Public Health’s advice. There are potential pros and cons.”

What price lockdowns?

According to the British Columbia-based Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan think-tank that has, for many years, been monitoring the effectiveness of Canada’s health-care system, studies of more than 200 nations’ responses to the pandemic have shown that early and aggressive testing and availability of acute care hospital beds have been far more critical to reducing transmissions and lowering mortality than have been government-mandated lockdowns.

Its report, “Global Storm − The effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Responses Around the World,” released on May 27, 2021, found that Canada ranked poorly, compared to other industrialized nations, in its performance of early COVID testing and availability of acute care hospital beds.

Senior Fellow at the Institute and chief author of the report, Livio Di Matteo, professor of economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, noted that out of 35 developed countries in the International Monetary Fund, Canada ranked 26th in the number of tests performed per million people, and 32nd in its availability of acute care hospital beds per capita. In addition, Canada had only 2.5 acute care beds available for 1,000 people. That compared to 12.2 in South Korea, and eight in Germany).

Di Matteo concluded: “Lockdowns, quarantines and travel restrictions have hurt the international travel industry and the labour-intensive personal services, food and accommodation, tourism and arts and entertainment sectors, as well as disrupted the global supply chain.” He also emphasized that the prolonging of Canada’s lockdown strategy does not appear to have been a major factor in curbing long-term spread of the pandemic, or curbing the deaths from COVID-19.

It still takes two

Though U.S. congressional committees continue to press for a border opening and a re-introduction of “non-essential” travel between our two countries, most of the resistance to doing so appears to be weighted on Canada’s side. As Dr. Nathan Stall, geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto told the CBC: “We seem to be paralyzed in Canada…we don’t differentiate between who’s vaccinated and unvaccinated… It really defies logic …Fundamentally, it’s like, we’re all going to move as one, because it’s not fair that some people are going to get to go ahead of others.”

Late break insertAlthough the federal government has relented regarding the issue of arbitrarily quarantining returning Canadians and permanent residents travelling by air (which was recommended by its COVID-19 panel), this does nothing to ease the border-crossing embargo on land-based, non-essential travel which is, by far, the major access route to and from the United States. The land border remains closed and government still advises U.S.-bound travellers to “avoid all non-essential travel.” They supplement that advisory by warning that contravention of the advisory might jeopardize their private travel insurance benefits.To put this into some perspective, Canadians made almost nine million outbound overnight trips in 2020, compared to 33 million in 2019. Total overnight trips fell by 73 per cent during the year, with overseas activity down by two-thirds (-67%) and trans-border trips declining by more than three-quarters (-77%). Eighty-eight per cent of the activity took place in the first quarter, before the pandemic was declared.Conference Board of Canada

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Milan Korcok is a national award-winning journalist, author and medical writer who has been covering international health-care activities and trends in Canada, the U.S. and abroad for many years. He has long served as contributing editor to the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association and currently serves as contributor to the International Travel and Health Insurance Journal in the UK. Milan is a dual Canadian/American citizen. He lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

 

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