When Air Canada Flight 1255 from Kingston, Jamaica, to Toronto touched down last Friday afternoon, there was at least one COVID-positive passenger on board.
Now those passengers who were in rows 30-36 of the plane that can carry more than 250 passengers are warned they have been exposed to the deadly virus.
This flight is the most recent one listed on the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada, but it joins flights from Newark, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Dubai, Denver, Brussels, Paris, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and, of course, Delhi in the long list of COVID-positive flights.
Is it any wonder there are calls to do more to stop COVID from coming in via the border?
“We need to keep these variants out of Canada; we need to secure our border,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Monday.
O’Toole said the government needs to stop flights from all hot-spot countries and consider shutting down all international flights for a period to get the importation of cases and variants under control.
Figures released by the Public Health Agency of Canada to the Toronto Sun show that from Feb. 22-April 23, 168,887 air travellers were tested with 3,158 registering positive for COVID-19.
That works out to 1.9% of all air travellers testing positive when they land, but that does not include those who tested positive afterward.
“Someone can bring back a lot more than just some memories,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said of air passengers. Williams said he is very concerned about the entry of variants into the country.
“I don’t think in my mind that the system is as solid as it should be,” Williams said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has downplayed the threat of new cases or variants entering the country via travel, despite also instituting a ban on flights from India and Pakistan.
“The vast majority of our cases are variants of concern that have originated in other countries,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer.
“So, the fact that 2% are directly travel-related, of course, is important, but it doesn’t represent the burden of illness that’s associated with international travel.”
Back in December, shortly after banning flights from the U.K. for a period as the variant from that country was appearing in Canada, the Trudeau Liberals used the same line, that international travel was not an issue. Yet as Yaffe pointed out, 75% of the cases in Ontario now are the B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in the U.K.
Travel matters, the question is what to do about it.
Dr. Vivek Goel, a health researcher and member of the national COVID-19 Immunity Task Force said travel is tricky because reacting to hot spots means you are already behind the curve. Still, learning that over the past two months, 1.9% of passengers arriving in Canada are testing positive does leave him worried.
“What concerns me with that number, this is amongst the people who should have had a negative test in the three days before the flight,” Goel said.
He added the testing and quarantine program that the federal government has instituted is not working properly.
“If the rest of the quarantine program was working as it should, then I would say the risk of introduction would be really small,” Goel said.
He added while stopping all travel would be difficult, fixing the program, including testing and quarantine, would be the easier measure.
We have lots of holes in the system, from fake PCR tests that people purchase before boarding a flight to Canada, to people spending their “quarantine” in a house full of people who are going to work and school.
The Trudeau government said we have among the “most stringent measures” but the truth is something else completely.
The PM has for too long put votes above action, and now we are all paying for it.