Saturday January 9, 2021

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday January 9, 2021

As airlines entice travellers, health expert says gov’t must enforce stronger travel rules

A Toronto-based health expert says the federal government should be doing more to crack down on non-essential travel as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies in Canada.

“We’ve been relying mostly on the honour system. We just think, OK, we put out a recommendation, people will do the right thing,” said Dr. Lauren Lapointe-Shaw, a general internist at the University Health Network and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

“We know from every other area of life that that’s unfortunately not the case.”

Several Canadian officials from across the political spectrum came under fire this week for travelling abroad during the pandemic, despite federal government warnings to avoid all non-essential travel. Their reasons for travelling ranged from visiting ailing relatives to vacationing in the Caribbean.

Air Canada is now facing backlash as well for launching an ad campaign that encourages Canadians to travel to vacation spots like Hawaii and the Caribbean, as long as the right hygiene protocols are enforced along the way. The Current reached out to Air Canada for comment, but did not receive a response.

Meanwhile, a new federal rule came into effect Thursday that requires all air travellers entering Canada to provide a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding a flight into the country.

This comes as COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the country. The COVID-19 case count in Ontario broke records again on Friday, while Manitoba extended its lockdown by another two weeks.

Lapointe-Shaw outlined a few other measures the government could take to ensure Canadians are following guidelines around travel.

“As Canadians exit [the country], they’re not even asked to present the reason [for] their essential travel,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway. “There isn’t even a form that asks you, you know, ‘What among these essential categories is your category?'”

Were the government to adopt such a practice, it could deter some people from leaving the country, because travellers would be “actively lying” if they didn’t fit into one of the essential travel categories listed on the form, she explained.

Requiring returning travellers to be supervised during self-isolation, and putting the administrative cost of running such a program on travellers’ backs, could also limit the number of people deciding to escape for leisure purposes, Lapointe-Shaw said.

She pointed to New Zealand as one country that’s already leading the way in enforcing travel measures.

Anyone entering the country needs to have a voucher to quarantine for two weeks in a managed self-isolation centre and provide a negative COVID-19 test result. It costs travellers thousands of dollars to stay in self-isolation there.

“But furthermore, their recommendation is not, ‘Avoid non-essential travel,'” Lapointe-Shaw said. “It is, ‘Do not travel.’ So the wording is much more definitive.” (CBC)

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