BUBBLE TROUBLE: WHY ATLANTIC PROVINCES TRAVEL IS A TERRIBLE IDEA

Guest Post by Ron Penney

Why
having an Atlantic Provinces travel bubble is a terrible idea and an imminent
threat to public health.
Tomorrow,
July 3rd, travel restrictions will be lifted for the Atlantic Provinces and
residents of the Maritimes can visit us without the necessity of self isolation
for two weeks. For the time being travel restrictions for other provinces
remain the same, but the Premier has mused that they will be lifted in
mid-July.
The
agreement to have an Atlantic Provinces travel bubble, with no requirement to
self isolate for two weeks is a risky and foolhardy decision for Newfoundland
and Labrador, with little potential economic upside.

If
we do get visitors from the other Atlantic Provinces, many will come by air,
and most of these will join aircraft originating from Toronto or other
provinces. Ontario and Quebec have had the bulk of cases in Canada. So many
visitors will join an aircraft where the potential for having an infected
person on board is relatively high. When the aircraft lands in St. John’s or
Deer Lake the passengers from Toronto will still be required to self isolate
but all the others are free to go anywhere in the province. If there is a case
and others are infected our contact tracing capacity will be quickly
overwhelmed.
Unlike
PEI, as of July 1, we haven’t issued any new Guidelines for the implementation
of the Atlantic Bubble outlying what proof has to be provided to demonstrate
residency in the Atlantic Provinces, so visitors may arrive on Friday without
the faintest idea of what is required.
Toronto
remains one of the hot spots for the virus. On July 1 Nova Scotia Public Health
has issued a warning of a possible exposure to Covid 19 on a West Jet flight to
Halifax.
Ron Penney
I
agree with the cautionary approach taken by the province up to now.  I have had serious concerns about their
implementation, particularly the initial lack of enforcement of the self
isolation order at the airports and ferry terminals, but we are told that has
been remedied and arriving passengers are given an order and their contact
information taken. Whether there is any follow up is an open question.
Nevertheless
the proof is in the pudding. We apparently did take the self isolation orders
seriously, and abided by the guidance on social distancing and bubbles and
double bubbles. Good for us but I see a relaxation of social distancing
happening. There will be much more travel around the province with all that
implies.
We
likely are Covid free and have taken advantage of our geography, both on the
island and in Labrador and we should look to other jurisdictions which have
been equally successful in controlling their cases and not overwhelming their
health care system.
 
For
example Iceland has now opened up for tourism, which is important for their
economy as it is for us. But they require that every visitor take a Covid test
at the airport or self isolate for two weeks.
The
other Atlantic provinces have different travel restrictions. For example, Nova
Scotia, which has the largest population in Atlantic Canada, never restricted
travel. It only required that visitors self isolate for two weeks on arrival.
It also hasn’t restricted occupancy levels in bars and restaurants. So the
likelihood of new cases originating from there is high.
Since
Halifax airport is the hub for Atlantic Canada that increases the risk of
transmittal to visitors to this province.
I
understand the pressure from the business community, particularly in the
hospitality sector, to open up their businesses to increased occupancy, but the
Atlantic Bubble makes that less likely.
There
is no community transmission in Newfoundland and Labrador, which means that if
we kept our travel restrictions in place we could have done what Iceland has
done, and removed occupancy limits for bars and restaurants, and other
facilities.
It’s
hard to understand why there was such a reversal in our travel restrictions. On
the very same day government announced the Atlantic Bubble, it announced the
Stay Home Year initiative costing $450,000. This had to be predicted on
maintaining the travel restrictions for the tourist season.
If
we are now permitted to travel to the other Atlantic Provinces it seems likely
that quite a few of us will. There will be some set off as Maritimers visit us
but the net result will probably not outweigh the loss of local business. Are
the substantial risks of a breakout of new cases worth it? Marine Atlantic has
reported that reservations are divided equally between outgoing and incoming
passengers.
We
will also have created a logistical nightmare at our airports and ferry
terminal, trying to distinguish between those who are from the Maritimes and
those who are not. We had a hard enough time organizing handling a general
travel restriction.
Airports
and ferry terminals are practicing social distancing to the degree they can.
And air carriers require the wearing of masks. But they have just announced
that they will be now selling the middle seats. Air travel is still very risky.
What
happened to cause such a sudden reversal of policy?
I
can only think of two possible reasons.
The
first is pressure from the business community. I understand the economic
devastation caused by the public health measures, which, along with our dire
fiscal situation, the collapse in oil prices, and the imminent doubling of
electricity prices when Muskrat Falls is completed, have created a crisis for
us, which will only get worse.
I
note in passing that many of the signatories of the letter to the Premier were
the same as those who supported the Muskrat Falls project through the “I
believe in the Power…” campaign. So I would treat their arguments with a
grain of salt. They have been proven wrong on Muskrat Falls and they are
equally wrong now.
We
have the oldest and unhealthiest population in Canada and they are the most
susceptible to COVID 19. Our first duty is to protect them. Public health has
to be the top priority and our population is the most at risk. (Full
disclosure, I am in that high risk group, over 70, but relatively healthy so
far as I know.) I suppose you could quarantine all of us, but I doubt that is
politically possible.
The
second reason may be a concern that they are on less than solid ground in
defending themselves against constitutional challenges to the travel
restrictions.
While
you can never be entirely sure of winning a court case, I think we are on very
solid grounds. (During the patriation of the Constitution, which included the
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I was Deputy Minister of Justice and a member
of the provincial negotiating team.)
The
argument is that the travel restrictions are contrary to the mobility rights
provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
What
are those rights?
 Every citizen and permanent resident has the
right:
“a.
to move to and take up residence in any province, and
 b. to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in
any province.”
Mobility
rights and other fundamental rights are, however “subject only to such
reasonable rights prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free
and democratic society.”
Two
of the exemptions which are permitted under our public health orders permit
someone who intends to move here and take up residency, or pursue their
livelihood, be granted permission to do so upon showing proof.
There
is no constitutional right to be a tourist.
And
the public health orders are laws made under the authority of our public health
legislation and surely are justified by the pandemic whose origins, with the
exception of Wuhan, come from travel.
I
do agree that people who have seasonal properties here, and are prepared to
self isolate for the requisite two week period, should be allowed in. They own
property here and pay taxes here and would not pose a health risk to the
province and we can rest assured that permanent residents in those communities will
keep a close watch on compliance with the public health order.

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