An Ontario infectious disease specialist says there is evidence that testing all travelers before and after they arrive in Canada will identify the majority of COVID-19 cases entering the country.
McMaster University physician Dr. Zain Chagla is highly critical of Canada’s plan to try to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant by banning travelers from only 10 African countries, saying the tests, not them travel bans are a less harmful and more effective mitigation strategy. .
“Look, I don’t think we can close our border to this variant,” Chagla said.
He points to the fact that in the early days of the pandemic most of the attention was focused on paying more attention to travelers from China, but in Canada, most of the first cases came from Iran, the United States, Europe and Egypt. .
And it says that a study conducted in Canada in September and October 2020 found that 1.5 percent of international travelers tested positive for COVID-19, and two-thirds of them were identified by testing them at the airport when they arrived. Another 27 percent were collected by testing a week later. Only six percent tested positive two weeks later.
He said if you test people a few days before they leave, that helps reduce the risk of people on planes having COVID-19, and if you test when they land and pick up two out of three travel cases, that will be helpful in mitigating the spread of new cases arriving in Canada.
Canada is beginning to test many international air travelers upon arrival, but Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Friday, days after the new measures were first announced, it is still not happening everywhere.
“It will be a few days before we can test all the specific travelers, but we are increasing our capacity rapidly and testing more and more travelers every day,” Duclos said at a press conference.
He said that since Wednesday the tests had expanded by 60 percent, but not all airports are testing all international travelers yet due to problems finding space at airports to do the tests and the laboratory capacity to process them. as well as human resource limitations.
Travelers who were in the United States are still exempt from the policy, although people arriving from elsewhere through the US will still be affected.
Better proof than the ‘whack-a-mole’ travel ban, says infectious disease specialist @zchagla. #CDNPoli #OmicronVariant # Covid19
Duclos also defended Canada’s decision to ban travel from 10 African countries as a way to slow the spread of the variant while imposing other measures.
“We knew from the beginning that it would eventually happen in almost all of our countries,” he said.
The World Health Organization said Friday that 38 countries have reported at least one case.
He said that is why the universal measure to evaluate international air travelers is being implemented. But in the meantime, he said it was important to try to stop most inbound travel from countries that, even if they hadn’t identified Omicron, were showing signs of high overall transmission rates and where there is limited local testing capacity.
Public Health Director Dr Theresa Tam said Canada was finding that travelers coming from Nigeria and Egypt, for example, were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those coming from elsewhere. .
He said the tests that are underway will help Canada spot any trends if there are countries that are at higher risk than others, and that will help inform Canada’s plans going forward.
“We have to reexamine these measures almost every day,” he said. “I think we have to be flexible and if the situation changes, we do not believe that this list is applicable, for example, we must prepare to reduce or increase it.”
The world learned of Omicron just a week ago, after South Africa released data identifying the presence of a new variant spreading there.
The variant has multiple mutations from other known versions of the virus that causes COVID-19, raising concerns that it may find ways to avoid existing vaccines. It is believed to be more easily transmitted, but it is not yet known whether it causes a more serious disease.
But Chagla said playing “whack-a-mole” with travel bans that affect only some countries is based on political expediency, not science.
“It was reactive,” Chagla said Friday in an interview with The Canadian Press. “I think when countries started pulling the trigger, other countries started pulling the trigger and showing their population that they were doing something about it.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on December 3, 2021.