The Trudeau government made the right call when it told the Toronto Blue Jays that a season built around repeated crossing and re-crossings of the border, by the Jays and U.S.-based teams, wasn’t on. Instead, the Jays will have to make their home somewhere in the United States.
The decision was a no-brainer. The border is closed to everything except essential services, and while that’s a surprisingly large category – more on that in a moment – professional baseball doesn’t make the cut.
There’s also the fact that, given Canada’s low number of COVID-19 cases, every new case has an impact. Florida, where the Jays’ spring training facility is located, is averaging about 12,000 new cases a day – relative to the population, that’s a rate about 50 times higher than Canada’s. Even if every member of the Jays’ organization were to test positive, it would be little more than a rounding error in that state’s daily deluge.
But Ottawa’s decision to send the Blue Jays on an indefinite road trip highlights all the ways Canada is still not ready to protect itself from renewed waves, and allow the economy and society to safely reopen, and stay open.
What the Jays were offering was a kind of moving quarantine, with players sequestered at the ballpark and an attached hotel, travelling by private jet, and with visiting U.S. teams in the same bubble. It wasn’t perfect, but this proposed system appears to have been more protective of Canadians than how Canada is currently handling thousands of other travellers.
Since late March, more than three million people have come across the Canadian border. More than 80 per cent were deemed essential, and did not have to self-isolate for 14 days. Flight crew and truckers are a big part of the list.
This system, or lack of one, is the virus equivalent of a fire hazard. And the solution is not to block travel; it’s to increase it, while taking steps to lower the odds of new outbreaks.
For example, Air Canada last week proposed that Canada follow the lead of a number of other countries, and bring in screening measures to allow for more, and safer, overseas travel. We’ve been calling for something similar for weeks, noting that some countries have very low levels of infection, and Canada should be planning to make them part of our bubble. The risk of travellers from those locations introducing an outbreak to Canada could be made very low – if the right measures are taken.
Iceland, Austria and some Caribbean countries require a pre-departure COVID-19 test, while South Korea and the United Arab Emirates administer a test on arrival. Both approaches make it highly unlikely that a traveller will bring infection with them.
But beyond quarantining non-essential border-crossers, Canada is doing remarkably little to screen thousands of other travellers, domestic or international.
As we reported in this space last week, when the Public Health Agency of Canada learns that someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 has been on a flight, they do not contact others from that flight. They post the information on a website that nobody knows about, and they pass information along to the provincial and local health authorities. British Columbia’s head physician, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has complained that airline screening is poor and that flight manifests and other information are at times inadequate for contact tracing – and in any case, the BC Centre for Disease Control says it does not contact trace airline passengers.
Alberta Health says if an Albertan who tests positive says they have recently flown, it will convey that to PHAC in Ottawa, and will wait for information on whether there were other Albertans on the flight. In Ontario, contact tracing is up to local health authorities; Toronto Public Health says it will trace if it receives information of a case on a Toronto flight, but only for “contacts on the flight who are Toronto residents.” With a confederation of public-health authorities passing information back and forth along a long chain, it sounds like a game of broken telephone.
As for the thousands of truckers and flight crew who cross the border every day, mostly from the U.S., Canada needs them to keep on flying and trucking. Our economy needs the volume of trade and travel to grow. But that necessary reopening to the world must be made safe. And for now, Ottawa still has not given itself the tools to systematically test people before they enter Canada.
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