It’s hard to say for sure, but the government of Canada may be developing a reputation for responding slowly to the COVID-19 crisis.
For the record, the previous sentence was meant ironically. What can be said with a straight face, based on Ottawa’s actions to date, is that there may well come a day when the term “let’s Canada this project” will mean to slowly roll out a new measure well after it’s needed, but in the knowledge that it can still do some good.
This native incrementalism was on display last March when it took weeks for Ottawa to close Canada’s borders to non-essential travel, after the coronavirus first discovered in China was already established in Canada and starting to spread.
It occurred again this January, when Ottawa finally required people flying into this country to produce a negative COVID-19 molecular test before boarding their flight.
And on Friday, the Trudeau government Canada’d tough new quarantine and testing rules for all air travellers entering the country, and announced the immediate end of flights to winter sun destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.
The measures, described below, will have a familiar ring to people who have followed COVID-19 restrictions in Australia and New Zealand, two of the world’s most successful countries at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Both began enforcing hard quarantines in March of last year.
Right on time, here comes Canada. Ottawa has reached an agreement with Canada’s airlines to suspend all flights to the beach resorts that are so popular in the long months of winter. The suspension started Sunday and lasts until April 30.
More critically, all commercial and private passenger flights landing in Canada from every country in the world will, as of midnight on Tuesday, be funnelled through four airports: Montreal-Trudeau, Toronto Pearson, Calgary International and Vancouver International.
Within what the government says will be the coming weeks, all arriving passengers will be obliged to book three nights in a government-designated hotel at their expense – food, cleaning and security costs included – and also pay for a COVID-19 molecular test. The total cost is expected to be at least $2,000.
If a traveller’s test is positive, they will be transferred to a government-run quarantine facility at government expense, while lab experts determine whether they are carrying one of the three known COVID-19 “variants of concern” that researchers say are more contagious and possibly more deadly than the original novel coronavirus.
Those with negative tests will be allowed to do a 14-day quarantine at home. But they will be obliged to provide an address, and they will be followed up with in a more comprehensive way than in the past.
The government is hiring guards from four security companies and empowering them to visit people’s homes to make sure the rules are being followed. If they discover a breach, they will inform the Public Health Agency of Canada, which can then ask law enforcement to step in.
In between now and the time these measures are in place, there will be voluntary testing at the Montreal, Toronto and Calgary airports. And the obligation to produce a negative COVID-19 molecular test before boarding a flight to Canada will continue.
These are necessary measures. Combined with the current lockdowns and school closings in many parts of the country, the tighter border gives Canada a better chance of containing the coronavirus and its mutations, and eventually wrestling it to the ground.
It’s also good that Ottawa has gotten the airlines to agree to suspend their flights, and has not issued a blanket ban on all travel. People who want to venture overseas to Europe, for instance, will still be able to. Their freedom to do so is intact; they’ll just know that they are signing up for an expensive and rigorous quarantine regime if they insist on travelling.
Nothing is guaranteed, though. There will still be essential travellers coming into the country who don’t have to follow the new rules: For instance, truck drivers and cargo plane pilots – who will be allowed to land their aircraft at any Canadian airport. And Ottawa has yet to demand a negative COVID-19 test from travellers driving into Canada. Gaps remain.
Still, we will be better off. Canada has never tried to own the pandemic podium, but in typical fashion it has now earned a participation badge for international travel.
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