As the Alberta government calls on Ottawa to end COVID-19-related travel restrictions, Premier Jason Kenney cited scientists and international restrictions as a way to prove his decision to do so.
In a mid-afternoon tweet on Sunday, Kenney said in a video he will be introducing a motion later this week to call on the federal government to drop “pointless” COVID-19 travel restrictions, saying they are no longer sensible nor defensible from a public health perspective.
The six-minute video points to a variety of health experts, including Canada’s top doctor Dr. Theresa Tam. Notably, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was not mentioned.
770 CHQR spoke with two of the experts cited to check the claims.
Are COVID-19-related travel restrictions ‘futile?’
In the video, Kenney said federal travel restrictions and vaccine mandates are futile and add extra complications at the border.
“…And this echoes what Dr. (Sumon) Chakrabarti said, and he points to the futility of travel restrictions, saying we’re not really adding much, but we’re adding a lot of extra complication. We’re not going to be keeping Omicron out, or any other variant for that matter,” Kenney said.
Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician based in Ontario, said his thoughts on federal travel restrictions still stand.
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“I think when this plan was initially put in place it came from a misguided thought that we’re able to catch and keep variants out if we test the travellers who are coming through the borders,” Chakrabarti said in an interview with 770 CHQR.
“Oftentimes, even before COVID, when we do discover a variant, it’s already spread much farther than you initially realize. That’s the case with Omicron.”
However, Chakrabarti said he agrees with random testing at the border because it is important to have an idea what different variants are coming through the border.
“I do think that monitoring and having an idea of what’s actually happening on the ground is good to get an idea about the mix of different variants coming in. I think that’s useful, but doing it on everybody is just a waste of money,” he said.
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In the video, Kenney also said vaccine passports are not effective against reducing viral spread further, saying two doses of the vaccine are less effective at preventing transmission of the Omicron variant while still very helpful in preventing severe outcomes.
“Dr. Isaac Bogoch has said that if we were to keep the definition of fully vaccinated as having had only two doses, then current vaccine mandates will accomplish very little…
“And that leads into what Dr. Zain Chagla, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University and an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, says that requiring three doses for vaccine passports is the wrong move at this stage of the pandemic,” Kenney said.
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Chagla agreed the government should not mandate third doses at this point. He said travel is being over-sensitized as a risky activity, even though people can go to fully-occupied restaurants and gyms without a need for a test.
However, Chagla said having three doses of the vaccine is still more effective than two and people should be encouraged to receive this positively.
“There are many issues in mandating this, recognizing that there is much more waning efficacy of three doses against Omicron versus Delta,” he said in an emailed response to 770 CHQR.
“Add to this the hesitation to keep mandating doses as it erodes the clinician-patient relationship… I would rather people be encouraged to get third doses, so mandating third doses doesn’t make sense.”
Bogoch did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
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Worldwide elimination of pre-entry COVID-19 testing
Kenney said the federal government should align with other international jurisdictions that removed pre-departure requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.
“This was put succinctly in a statement from the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable Industry Group when they said that the federal government missed an opportunity to align with other international jurisdictions that removed pre-departure test requirements for fully vaccinated travellers,” he said in Sunday’s video.
While the U.K. and the European Union have lifted pre-entry requirements for vaccinated travellers, many Asian countries still require vaccinated travellers to test before departure and quarantine upon arrival.
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South Korea requires all travellers to provide proof of negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of departure regardless of vaccination status. Arriving passengers are also subject to temperature screening and must follow the government-mandated quarantine, which is seven days for most travellers, reads the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
China has taken a stricter approach: travellers must show two proof of negative COVID-19 tests (PCR and antibody tests) taken within two days before boarding. They must also show proof of vaccination upon arrival and quarantine for 21 days – 14 days in a hotel and seven days in a hotel or residence.
Japan has banned foreign nationals from entering the country for touristic purposes, including Canada. According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, travellers entering the country for business purposes must submit a valid negative test result from a PCR test within 72 hours. All travellers must also conduct a COVID-19 test upon arrival.
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Are countries around the world getting rid of vaccine passport programs?
“In addition to all of this, we’re seeing a trend across Canada, where provinces are dropping or easing their proof-of-vaccination systems like we did here in Alberta… Plus, we’re seeing this trend around the world, and this is especially true for the federal government’s travel restrictions,” Kenney also said in the video.
While many countries around the world are scrapping vaccine passports – the U.K. and Denmark recently scrapped COVID-19 restrictions – some countries like New Zealand are keeping theirs.
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Hong Kong also rolled out its own vaccine passport on Feb. 24 and required people aged 12 and above to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to access venues such as supermarkets and shopping malls, according to a report by Reuters.
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