LILLEY: Variants arriving shows Canada must tighten border restrictions

5,159 people with COVID arrived in Canada via air travel between Feb. 22 and April 29, But how many are entering the country via our land borders?

It’s still just a variant of interest, not one of concern yet, but health officials in Ottawa and London have sounded the alarm about recent cases of the B1.617 variant showing up in their communities.

That’s the double variant first discovered in India in March and first reported in Canada in April.

In Ottawa, medical officer Dr. Vera Etches reported three cases of this variant on Wednesday with all three cases related to international travel – two of the cases stayed in the nation’s capital while the third has made their way to the GTA. The case in London was also related to international travel.

“It was not acquired in Canada, nor in the Middlesex-London Health Unit,” associate medical officer of health Alex Summers said.

So much for the claims that the border is not an issue.

In total, there have been 38 identified of the B1.617 variant cases registered with Public Health Ontario. Of those, 37 have been linked to international travel and one is still being investigated. Given the lax quarantine rules existing in Canada though, it’s only a matter of time before there is community spread of this variant.

That’s what happened in December with the B.1.1.7 variant that was first discovered in the U.K. It came into Canada via travel and then, despite our quarantine rules, began spreading in the community. That variant now accounts for roughly 90% of all COVID cases in Ontario.

The new double-mutant variant will also spread this way, as will other variants, unless we fix the current system.

According to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, about 27% of people who test positive for COVID after arriving in Canada via aircraft, do so on the test they conduct at home on day 8 or 10. That means those people are at home, most often with family members or roommates who are still going to work or otherwise heading out into the community.

This is how we get community spread — it’s how it happened in December and how it will happen now.

  1. The arrivals lineup in Terminal One at Pearson International Airport February 22, 2021.

    LILLEY: Thousands of COVID-infected travellers enter Canada

  2. A passenger is covered head to toe at the International Arrivals area at Terminal 3 at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Tuesday, January 26, 2021.

    Nearly every India-Toronto flight this month had COVID-positive passengers

  3. The arrivals lineup in Terminal One at Pearson International Airport on Feb. 22, 2021.

    Man nabbed with suspected fake COVID document at Pearson airport

While most people think quarantine means some kind of isolation, that’s not true. It’s also not true that only Canadian citizens are allowed into the country. The list of exemptions is long and the idea that the Trudeau Liberals have banned non-essential travel is ridiculous. Yes, travel is down significantly, but it is not shut down and it is still contributing to new cases and new variants.

Last week we found out that between Feb. 22 and April 29, 5,159 people who arrived in Canada via air travel had tested positive for COVID-19. That is just at the four airports in Canada taking international flights. We don’t know about the land border because the Public Health Agency of Canada won’t release the data.

Despite putting in a request and following up every single day since then, the bureaucrats at PHAC have refused to provide any information on how many people have tested positive at the land border. They either don’t the information, which they absolutely should, or won’t release it because it will be embarrassing for the government.

Neither of those is a good answer.

With more than 192,000 people crossing into the land border in a single week in April, we need to be concerned. If land crossers have the same positivity rates as air travellers – 1.5% to 2.26% – they we are importing between 2,800 and 4,300 new cases per week.

If we have any hope of getting ahead of COVID before another variant takes hold, then the Trudeau government needs to tighten up who can enter Canada and toughen up the quarantine rules. This needs to happen at least until we can get enough people vaccinated.

It’s that or prepare now for the fourth wave.

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