Ontario Premier Doug Ford warned at a press conference last week that if more wasn’t done to stop the spread of COVID-19 at the borders, it could lead to a fourth wave in the province.
Ford railed against the federal government, claiming that the measures currently in place at the border have failed Canadians.
“The federal expert panel came back and said there is basically no plan for the borders and that’s unacceptable,” he said.
Ford went on to say that the COVID-19 India variant was up 600 per cent, and that when he mentioned it to the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the issue was dismissed.
As for as he was concerned, it didn’t seem like there was a problem,” Ford said. “It was like one of those things, ‘Ok folks, nothing’s happening here, just keep moving on, pretend the borders aren’t happening.’ This could cause a fourth wave if we don’t tighten up the borders. It’s absolutely critical.’
'It's not the perfect seal', but border rules helping, doctor says
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at the University of Toronto, said while we know the variants of concern are emerging globally, including in Canada, our measures at the border have helped slow the spread significantly.
“Some of them are in Canada and we know that they got here because of travel,” he told Yahoo Canada News. “But it’s also fair to say that our border measures have shielded us significantly from COVID-19, including variants of concern. But it’s not a perfect seal, it just reduced the rate significantly.”
He says while the absolute number of the variants is small, the relative rise is real and meaningful. While early emerging data out of the UK shows that vaccines are effective, Canadians still have to keep practicing public health measures to reduce the spread and get the roll out of the second dose of the vaccine underway.
“We just have to be mindful of what the situation is on the ground in terms of hospital capacity, burden of COVID-19 and vaccine rollout of both first doses and second doses,” said Bogoch. “If you’re guided by those three categories, and everything is headed in the right direction, you probably can slowly re-open.”
Bogoch added that when people start meeting indoors again, there will be a rise in cases. The question is, how significant will it be?
“Will enough of us be vaccinated that you decoupled cases from hospitalization and health care utilization? Hopefully,” he said. “We have a lot of people on their first dose of the vaccine but we have a lot of people who don’t have it and a lot of people who don’t have the second dose.”
Thankfully, the rate of vaccination across the country is moving fast, and Bogoch said you have to look ahead months down the line, because we’ll be in a different place then.
“You have to plan ahead, you can’t just snap your fingers and say ‘OK, we got a new border policy,’” he said. “You got to look ahead. This takes time, to do it well at least.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said “vaccines are a game changer in the area of border health.”
"If someone had a pre-boarding test and they’ve got a vaccine, the chances of anyone transmitting before we know the result of that first test...is going to be small,” she said in a statement. “As the Canadian epidemiology improves, we can tolerate those kinds of risks, I think they’re minimal."
On social media, some felt the premier was using the border to deflect from other issues.
A request for comment with the Border Services Agency was referred to the Public Health Agency of Canada. They did not respond to an interview request.