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

The screening requirements applied to travelers arriving from China due to the country’s rise in COVID-19 cases are “ineffective” and “a bit absurd”, according to two infectious disease experts.

Following China’s easing of COVID-19 policing, which quickly led to a spike in cases, the US, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy announced screening requirements for all travelers entering from China in the past week.

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

One expert who spoke to CP24 on Thursday said he believes the government is doing enough to prevent cases from reaching Canada, but the testing policy is “executive” and not the solution.

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

“If the goal is to keep COVID-19 out of Canada, a policy like this doesn’t really do much. We already have a lot of COVID-19 here,” Bogoch said in a CP24 Breakfast interview Thursday. “If the goal here is to prevent new versions of a concern from landing in Canada, well, we’ve seen that happen a number of times in the past; we had a policy related to traveling with the UK with an alpha version.”

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

“This policy is ineffective,” Bogoch said. “Let’s not pretend for a moment that requiring a negative pre-travel test from a single country will prevent us from importing COVID-19 or importing variants of concern.”

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

Federal Conservative leader Pierre Poiliber said on Friday the party was “listening to the data” before deciding whether to support or oppose the testing requirements.

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

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Bogoch said that if the goal was to have better surveillance, using sewage tests at airports and performing analysis of sewage from airplanes would be a more effective policy and would not “disrupt passengers.”

The rapid rise of the virus comes after widespread protests in China last month. The country then began easing its “zero COVID-19 policy” as it retreated from the restrictive measures put in place in recent years.

The country of 1.4 billion people reported high vaccination rates overall, but lower uptake of a booster. China’s vaccines have been shown to be less effective against severe infection than the western-made RNA versions.

Dr. Dale Kalina, an infectious disease specialist at Joseph Burnett Hospital in Burlington, Ont., echoed similar sentiments about required screening at airports.

“What we’re seeing now, when the policy is changing in the U.S., for example, clearing everyone who comes to the U.S. from China, it’s a little absurd,” Kalina told CP24 at noon Thursday.

Kalina cited the policy regarding screening passengers from China as “not working.”

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“I do think that the federal government here is doing enough to prevent more of the corona virus from reaching the country,” he said. “But this is in a situation where we already have coronavirus across our country, so executive actions, like cleaning, testing and restrictions are really not going to help anyone at all.”

In the summer, screening requirements at airports were temporarily lifted to ease passenger wait times. In the fall, the Canadian government canceled all testing policies including the ArriveCan app.

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


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