'Clear and present danger': Petition calls on feds to ban non-essential travel due to COVID-19 variants
Published Thursday, January 21, 2021 3:38PM PST Last Updated Thursday, January 21, 2021 7:41PM PST
VANCOUVER -- Fears the COVID-19 variants could spread through Canada, causing the pandemic to get even worse, has a number of health officials calling on the federal government to take further action to ban non-essential travel.
The group "COVID Strategic Choices" is made up of doctors, epidemiologists and economists. Its petition had more than 100 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, from some of Canada's top epidemiologists, virologists and doctors.
"(The variants) have the potential to basically destroy all of the hard work that's taken place so far in the fight against COVID," said Robert Greenhill, one of the group's founders. "This is a clear and present danger."
A case of the South African variant was found in a British Columbian just last week. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that person had not travelled or had contact with a traveller.
This is exactly what Greenhill and his group is afraid of. He told CTV News, "100 per cent of all variants in Canada basically came in through international travel over the last few weeks."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday anyone with winter travel plans should cancel and that restrictions could change quickly.
That's not soon enough for Greenhill's group.
"If it's not too late already it will be too late within the next week," he said. "If we even have a handful of cases, even three cases in B.C., if they take a foothold in January it overwhelms the system by the end of March."
The petition recommends the following:
- Testing people at airports, and continuing to do tests both five days and 11 days after they arrive;
- Vaccinating the 200,000 truckers travelling and the 25,000 essential workers who have to cross the border into the United States;
- Toughen quarantine rules;
- Reducing travel so there's no non-essential travel.
"That means frankly stopping flights to Cancun, to Hawaii, to Puerto Vallarta, these places we know people are going to travel," he said. "If we do those four things, we can make the border almost impervious to these new variants. If we don't they will come into the country and they will overwhelm our system."
Last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced his government was seeking legal advice regarding a potential ban on travellers coming into the province for non-essential reasons. On Thursday, he issued a statement saying a review of the options "made it clear we can't prevent people from travelling to British Columbia."
However, Horgan did leave the door open to "stronger restrictions on non-essential travellers" if the province sees an increase in COVID-19 transmission linked to incoming visitors from other parts of Canada.
"We can impose restrictions on people travelling for non-essential purposes if they are causing harm to the health and safety of British Columbians. Much of current inter-provincial travel is work related and therefore cannot be restricted," Horgan said.
The constant changes have caused issues for the travel industry as it tries to keep up.
"The biggest challenge for us though is it's nearly impossible for us to pivot," said Allison Wallace with Flight Centre. "We've never seen anything like this and the absolute priority has to be getting the cases under control, getting the vaccine rolled out or finding ways to do rapid testing," so travel can resume safely.
She said some clients were stranded over New Year's when the new regulations came into place requiring a negative test before returning to Canada.
"Nothing's simple right now in the travel industry and we're doing our best to work through it," she told CTV News adding that when it comes to spring and reading breaks, bookings are "very low. We're not seeing any significant bookings at this time."
Greenhill said without stricter rules and moves from government, people will continue to travel.
"They need to be told plan no March breaks outside this country, and ideally no March breaks outside of your neighbourhood or your city."