With social distancing rules, a border largely closed to non-Canadians and quarantine orders for those coming home, Canada has taken important steps to bend the coronavirus curve.
What more needs to be done?
Screen travellers: Ottawa ordered airlines to deny boarding to anyone with symptoms of COVID-19; however, neither the airlines at the departure point or federal authorities at Canada’s airports appear to have a proper screening system.
That basic failure should have been remedied weeks ago – like, say, before a million Canadians returned the week ended March 22.
There is no way to create a perfect screen to identify and quarantine every infected person. But any screening is more effective than nothing. The response of the Canada Border Services Agency at the country’s international airports needs to be permanently beefed up, with staff, equipment and training. When Canada begins to reopen its borders, it will need to screen for some time to minimize the introduction of new infections.
Test, test, test: Knowing who has the virus, tracing who they came into contact with, and then quarantining them is a basic infection-control measure. It works, from South Korea to Germany. But it’s only possible with widespread testing.
Canada’s provinces have made significant progress over the past two weeks, upping the number of tests administered. But that progress had been uneven.
For example, Quebec said it had tested more than 36,000 people as of Thursday, with results for 2,622 tests pending. Ontario, in contrast, had administered 38,550 tests since the start of the outbreak – far fewer on a per capita basis than Quebec, B.C. or Alberta – and results were still pending for nearly 11,000. Stories abound of Ontarians waiting the better part of a week for their results.
Canada has to do better. That means more tests, faster tests, and more public health resources, to track and trace the source and spread of each case.
Protect seniors’ residences: Seniors’ homes and long-term care facilities are points of vulnerability. They combine the attributes most appealing to the virus: people in close quarters, and people who may be in poor health.
Numbers compiled by academics running the COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group tell the story. Most of the Canadians killed by COVID-19 were not just seniors; they were in a seniors’ residence or nursing home.
In British Columbia, 10 of the 14 deaths reported in the province as of Thursday were from the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. In Quebec, the province’s first four fatalities were all from one seniors’ home. In Ontario, The Globe and Mail found this week that at least 16 nursing homes have COVID-19 cases.
Canada’s hospitals also have many patients in one building and staff members circulating among them. But to prevent health-care workers from catching the virus and sharing it from room to room, they’ve long had effective protocols, training and disposable safety equipment. Seniors’ homes and long-term care facilities normally do not need the same standards. However, now is a not normal time, and unless these residences get help to ramp up, they are at risk.
It is possible to stop a virus from being spread within a facility. But absent protective measures, seniors’ residences are at risk, like kindling awaiting a spark.
Keep trade flowing, safely: Ottawa was right to end tourist travel from the rest of the world, and restrict border crossings to returning Canadians.
But as personal travel disappears, trade continues. Among those making trade possible are cross-border truckers. As essential workers, they are exempted from the rules. But unless care is taken, they can also become importers of the virus.
In a normal year, there are nearly seven million truck trips between Ontario and the United States – or about 19,000 trips a day to and from just one province. The shutdown of many industries will cut traffic, but lots of trucks, carrying goods such as food, must continue to roll.
What’s needed is a system for quickly and accurately testing truckers at the border or through preclearance. Also called for: a registry of who has had COVID-19 – because those who have been infected and recovered are likely immune. That makes them ideal for essential jobs, since they cannot acquire the virus, or spread it.