Opening U.S. border too soon a potential disaster for Canada: expert

Yahoo News Canada

With changes between cross-border travels coming into effect, one expert says that could bring considerable risk in the form of a spike in COVID-19 cases in Canada.

Earlier this month, it was announced that immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents could travel across the border between the U.S. and Canada. Those entering Canada, even without symptoms of the virus, must isolate upon entry into the country and quarantine for 14 days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said anyone violating the orders is subject to serious penalties.

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Isaac Bogoch, an epidemiology and associate professor with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, says there are still many parts of the U.S., largely in the southern states, which have high levels of community transmission of COVID-19. For example, Arizona, Florida and Texas have all been reporting 15,000 or more new cases per day. 

While different states are working on different measures to maintain the spread — some restaurants and bars are closing again in Florida — it begs the question of whether enough is being done.

“Is there a consistent control method in place across the country at the individual state and municipal level? The answer is that it’s probably going to take a while for the United States to get their epidemic under control,” he tells Yahoo Canada.

Bogoch says by opening up the borders, we risk undoing all the hard work we’ve done in Canada getting our epidemic under control, even if the numbers are higher than in some parts of the States.

“Even if a lot of this is restricted to the southern United States, it’s irrelevant because we know people travel, and people move around,” he says. “In the earlier part of the epidemic (before borders closed) we know that we imported quite a number of cases from the U.S.”

While a lot goes into the decision making behind the closing and opening of borders, which consider issues outside of health like political policy and economics, a healthy population translates into a healthy economy. Bogoch says if there’s a significant outbreak in Canada related to imported cases from the U.S., we’ll have to reimpose public health restrictions to get it under control.

“It’s clear that at this point in time, opening the border is not the right thing to do,” he says.  

He adds that theoretically, if the U.S. took stricter measures to control the spread of the virus, as Canada has done, it would make it more feasible to open the borders. However, appropriate contract tracing at the border would have to be imposed.

“I think we’re very far from something like that,” Bogoch says. 

The bottom line is that the rate of infection is still high in the U.S., while the numbers in Canada continue to dip. Allowing international travel between the two countries would put us back to square one. 

“If we open the border, we’re going to get more infection,” he says. “Let’s avoid that if we can.”

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