Ontario should increase hotel quarantine length when COVID-19 cases decline, health official says
TORONTO -- As vaccinations roll out and COVID-19 cases come down, one public health official says rather than relaxing the border, restrictions need to ramp up.
"It's like a giant puzzle," Peel Region's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh CTV News Toronto.
"Once you've got the community transmission puzzle under control, with the different work places and social things and families and close contact and isolation and all those puzzle pieces together, you can't forget about the travel puzzle piece.”
When the current COVID-19 vaccine roll out brings us to the point where life return to normal inside Canada, Loh said protecting progress may mean a much longer stay in a quarantine hotel.
"You might need to look at managed isolation and quarantine the way that they've done in Australia and New Zealand, which is you know, 14 days, no exceptions ensuring that you're basically in hotel quarantine, which is really not what we have right now," he said.
Australia and New Zealand currently have some of the strictest border measures in the world. Everyone returning to those countries must spend 14 days in a government approved quarantine hotel.
By doing this, both countries have been able to go about daily life with hardly any COVID-19 restrictions in place.
Currently, travellers who arrive in Canada by air are expected to present a negative COVID-19 test at the airport, take another test on site, and stay in a quarantine hotel for three days or until they get a negative test result.
They undergo another test eight days after arrival.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the number of travel related cases are low.
Only 1.9 per cent of tests at air border crossings since February when they became mandatory have been positive. At land border crossings, where travellers avoid the hotel entirely, the number is even smaller, 0.3 percent of tests have come back positive.
This past week, three hotels participating in the quarantine program have reported outbreaks. They are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Toronto Airport and the Hampton Inn and suites. The Hampton remains partially closed.
Loh said previous COVID-19 waves have been created by strains that arrived before the federal government created testing and mandatory quarantine programs, and that it is community spread, not travel driving current cases.
"The reality is that once we get community transmission under control, then you start to get concerns about the boarder introductions particularity of new variants in places that don't have this under control,” Loh said.
Loh said that as Canada emerges from COVID-19, there will still be many places in the world without access to vaccines and that COVID-19 will continue to circulate for quite some time, creating a risk of mutations and more contagious variants that can drive further waves.