Justin Trudeau bows to health advice, public pressure and politics as pandemic restrictions end

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to the cameras on Monday to outline his government’s emergency response — not to the long-awaited end of federal borders and travel restrictions, but to the weekend’s hurricane. end last.

Instead, it has been left to Cabinet ministers to announce an end to pandemic measures that have become increasingly unjustifiable in the eyes of the tourism and travel industry, border mayors, the business community and many medical experts.

On the unanimous recommendation of a Cabinet committee on COVID-19, Trudeau agreed to let Cabinet pandemic orders expire on September 30, a decision that was as much politically and economically necessary as it was based on public health data.

Trudeau almost admitted as much when he later acknowledged « there was a sense that these border measures were no longer effective or warranted in the circumstances we now find ourselves in. »

This means that as of October 1, Ottawa will end all COVID-19 related border requirements for travelers entering Canada: no more mandatory random testing for vaccinated returning citizens. No more vaccination mandate for foreign nationals. End of testing and quarantine requirements for unvaccinated Canadians.

It also means that travelers entering Canada no longer need to submit proof of their vaccination status via the ArriveCAN app (although it remains an option for travelers to quickly upload customs declaration information).

The federal government is also removing masking requirements for federally regulated transportation — airlines, trains and cruise ships — though it “strongly” encourages travelers to continue using masks.

For some infectious disease specialists, it is high time.

Dr. Zain Chagla of McMaster University was one of four specialists who analyzed the medical literature, compared Canada’s response to that of other countries and concluded that « the restrictions introduced during the Omicron wave were largely ineffective and not should not be maintained or reintroduced”.

In a report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Association released on Friday, they said “what made sense at the start of the pandemic, no longer makes sense today” with the availability of therapeutic treatments, mass vaccination and community sewage testing.

At best, according to their report, the travel restrictions only delayed the arrival of concerning new variants by a few days, and the tests resulted in « numerous false negatives and positives, caused significant economic and mental hardship, and they have not been proven to prevent the virus and its variants globally. PCR tests also do not distinguish between an acute infection or a non-infectious residual traveler. »

On top of that, they said, « virtually all European and American countries have removed testing requirements for international travelers arriving at this stage, and more than 80 countries have removed all COVID-19 restrictions. »

On Monday, the tourism industry and the Chamber of Commerce – and the Conservatives – applauded the upcoming end of restrictions.

This report, however, was not the turning point. It only reinforced what a cabinet committee had already concluded.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos cited “data accumulated over the past few weeks” as justification for ending the restrictions now, but argued they had worked.

Duclos cited a report by the Canadian Medical Association Journal showing that Canada had done better than 10 peer countries in terms of the number of people infected, the number of deaths from COVID-19 and the total number of excess deaths. This report says Canada has seen some of the most restrictive public health measures – most of which have been ordered by provincial authorities.

What Duclos did not mention is that the same report states that the Canadian economy has shown « similar growth in inflation and public debt, but weaker gross domestic product growth than other countries « . It’s a big problem.

Duclos suggested the restrictions could be reimposed later. Canadian cases are on the rise again, although death rates are declining and intensive care rates remain low for the time being. But both Duclos and Trudeau said updated vaccines are the best protection for individuals and for a strained healthcare system.

Asked about the political challenge of reimposing restrictions on the road or enforcing current mandates – a coercive approach and, at one time, considered absolutely necessary to increase vaccination rates – Trudeau largely stuck to it. to talking points.

The Prime Minister almost admitted that it was better for social cohesion and respect for public health to let people “make their own choices”, but did not finish the reflection, choosing instead to signal that it will be up to provincial or local health authorities to impose any new restrictions if necessary.

“We just know that allowing people to make their own choices – how they feel, if they’re at risk, what they choose to do to stay safe,” he said.

Yet Duclos – if not Trudeau – was more transparent that the data shows that domestic transmission is the primary driver of infection, not international travellers, and that border and travel measures do nothing to address that. remedy.

Duclos also acknowledged that public support was waning, saying the mood had turned against workers trying to enforce mandates.

“We are moving away from a coercive (sic) environment, which has created pressures and hardships for air travelers and air workers in particular,” Duclos said. He suggested that « most » travelers will continue to wear masks in enclosed spaces, « but there will be travelers who choose not to and that’s fine. »

But the rationale for rolling back those measures had been there since the spring and had « started to become overwhelming, » Chagla said. « And I think as we start to see partner countries really drop those restrictions, it becomes very difficult to keep justifying.

« A lot of countries are waking up to sort of say, this is probably not where we want to invest your time and effort and monetary resources in this direction. »


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