Editorial

Canada acted swiftly Sunday night, falling in line with Britain’s European neighbours to block travellers who might be carrying a dreaded new strain of the coronavirus from the United Kingdom to this country. The new strain, which has been circulating in southern England since mid-September, may be more efficient than earlier varieties at attaching itself to and infecting human cells.

The Canadian travel restriction had the feel of muscular, decisive action to protect Canadians. Since the new strain has been infecting people in England for three months already, however, and since new viral strains can emerge at any time in any country, this particular closing of the barn door was at best a small contribution to Canadian virus defence.

Canada acted swiftly Sunday night, falling in line with Britain’s European neighbours to block travellers who might be carrying a dreaded new strain of the coronavirus from the United Kingdom to this country. The new strain, which has been circulating in southern England since mid-September, may be more efficient than earlier varieties at attaching itself to and infecting human cells.

The Canadian travel restriction had the feel of muscular, decisive action to protect Canadians. Since the new strain has been infecting people in England for three months already, however, and since new viral strains can emerge at any time in any country, this particular closing of the barn door was at best a small contribution to Canadian virus defence.

Canada restricts travel from U.K. for 72 hours

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Posted: 8:00 PM Dec. 20, 2020

OTTAWA - The federal government is restricting travel from the U.K. for 72 hours in an effort to keep a contagious new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 out of Canada.

The travel ban comes into effect first thing Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter after an hours-long meeting with members of the Incident Response Group

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The best defences appear to be the ones Canadian provinces are slowly and reluctantly adopting — curtailment of social gatherings and shopping, avoidance of crowds and close contact, encouragement of hand-washing and mask-wearing. For people who are fully protected from contagion, it hardly matters which strain of the virus they are avoiding.

British scientists suspect that the new, more transmissible strain may explain the accelerated spread of COVID-19 in and around London in recent weeks. They have yet to discover whether the new strain makes people sicker or more likely to die than the old one did. Nor is there evidence yet suggesting the vaccines now being administered are any less effective against the new strain of virus.

Blocking travel from selected countries is a blunt instrument. U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the new virus variety was "out of control" in southern England and this remark caught the world’s attention. The same variety has been found in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Iceland. Travel from those countries has not been newly restricted.

Public health authorities in Canada’s major ports of entry could help by keeping a close eye on travellers who supposedly submit to a quarantine period upon arrival. The public needs to know that travellers are not carrying the virus in any of its variants. It is no consolation to know that virus-carriers from Britain are being stopped in their tracks when no one actually knows what happens to all the other virus-carriers who arrive.

Canadian provinces and territories reported an average of 6,569 new COVID-19 cases each day during the second week of December, an increase of four per cent from the preceding week. After all the political rhetoric about protecting the public, this virus has not been brought under control in Canada. We can’t blame this on travellers. The measures adopted by Canada and its governments are not yet working.

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the new virus variety was "out of control" in southern England and this remark caught the world’s attention.

TOLGA AKMEN / POOL /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the new virus variety was "out of control" in southern England and this remark caught the world’s attention.

After all the rhetorical concern about elderly Canadians, long-term care and retirement residences are still the most common setting for COVID-19 outbreaks — as they have been in almost all months of the pandemic. We can’t blame that on travellers, either.

A 72-hour interruption of travel from the U.K. is a reasonable step while Canada comes up with a better plan for protecting its people from the newly identified British version of the disease. The better plan will involve the steps already known to protect people from all variants of the virus, including those that may be emerging right here in Canada.

Canada and its provinces need to admit their measures are not working. Our problem does not lie in southern England. It lies right here in Canada.