COVID travel restrictions for China arrivals ‘not effective’: experts

Testing requirements implemented on travellers arriving from China due to the country’s surge in COVID-19 cases are “ineffective” and “a little bit absurd,” according to two infectious disease experts.

Following the easing of COVID-19 polices in China, which was quickly followed by a spike in cases, the U.S., Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy announced testing requirements for all travellers entering from China in the past week.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said it was monitoring the situation on Thursday.

One expert who spoke to CP24 on Thursday said he believes the government is doing enough to prevent cases from coming into Canada but that testing policies are “performative” and not the solution.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, said the measures taken by countries hoping to prevent cases from China are not “effective”, citing Canada should not follow suit.

“If the goal is to keep COVID-19 out of Canada, a policy like that doesn’t really do much. We have plenty of COVID-19 here already,” Bogoch said in an interview CP24 Breakfast on Thursday. “If the goal here is to prevent new variants of concern from landing in Canada, well we’ve seen this play out multiple times before; we had policy related to travel with the United Kingdom with the Alpha variant.”

The concern is the rapid spread of COVID-19 leading to a new mutation of the virus. Bogoch said after past testing policies were implemented, COVID-19 still found its way into Canada.

“These policies aren’t effective,” Bogoch said. “Let’s not pretend for a second, that requiring a negative test prior to travel from an individual country is going to prevent us from importing COVID-19 or importing variants of concern.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada said it is “monitoring” the situation in China and will use genomic sequencing data to track the potential impacts of cases.

Federal Conservative Leader, Pierre Poilievre, said on Friday the party is “listening to the data” before deciding to advocate for or against testing requirements.

“We haven’t yet decided whether we’re going to call for the government to impose a mandatory test or vaccination at the border for incoming flights from China,” he said during a press conference. ” But we will watch it very carefully and will base our position on science and numbers.”

Bogoch said if the goal was to have better surveillance, using wastewater testing at airports and conducting an analysis on wastewater from airplanes would be a more effective policy and wouldn’t “inconvenience passengers.”

The rapid rise of the virus comes after widespread protests in China last month. The country then started easing its “COVID-19 zero policy” pulling back on restrictive measures in place for the last few years.

The 1.4 billion person country has reported overall high vaccination rates but a lower booster uptake. China’s vaccines are proven to be less effective against serious infection than the Western-made RNA versions.

Dr. Dale Kalina, infectious disease specialist at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ont., echoed similar sentiments on required testing at airports.

“What we’re seeing right now, with policies changing in the United States, for example, swabbing everybody who’s coming to the United States from China, are a little bit absurd,” Kalina told CP24 at Noon on Thursday.

Kalina cited the policies on testing passengers from China “doesn’t work”.

“I do think that the federal government here is doing enough to prevent more COVID coming to the country,” he said. “But that’s in a situation where we already have widespread COVID around our entire country, so performative actions, like swabbing, tests and restrictions really won’t help anybody at all.”

In the summer, testing requirements at airports were temporarily removed to ease wait times for travellers. In the fall the Canadian government dropped all testing policies including the ArriveCan app.

Between Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 there was an increase in hospital bed usage by COVID-19 patients, the Health Canada website says. The number of people who needed a bed in a hospital increased from 5,488 to 5,548. The number of ICU beds used by COVID-19 patients across Canada decreased from 260 to 248 beds, between Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. 


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