GNL SHOULD REJECT RISKY CANADIAN BUBBLE

Guest
Post by David Vardy

As of now, we have no active Covid-19 infections in the
province, 259 have recovered and three have died.
  In the face of the surging pandemic south of
the border and in other hot spots around the globe, this is no time to reduce
controls over imported infections by dropping the requirement for quarantine or
self-isolation (I use these terms interchangeably). We should instead build
upon the natural protection arising from our isolation, as have other
jurisdictions, such as Iceland and New Zealand. Having eradicated the virus our
goal should be to remain virus free.
We should maintain the 14 day quarantine and begin to test
people arriving in the province.  We
should also require the use of contact tracing apps for at least 14 days after
arrival.  The Atlantic Bubble is a bad
idea. The proposed “Canadian Bubble “is much worse. These “Bubbles” are both
flawed because they exempt more people from quarantine, thus increasing risk of
imported infections without offsetting measures to reduce risk, such as testing
and contact tracing.
Exemption from quarantine
Tom Blackwell, reporting in the National Post on July 18,
writes that Canadians support border restrictions with the US in the belief
that people entering Canada from another country must go into quarantine for
two weeks to avoid importing Covid-19.
 
He points out that this belief is not well grounded. More than 80% of
the three million people who have arrived in Canada since late March have been
exempted from quarantine.
At a provincial level, GNL has a policy that arriving
passengers must be quarantined for two weeks whether they are coming from
outside the country or from another province. GNL also has a number of
exemptions, recently expanded as a result of the “Atlantic Bubble”, which
dispenses with the requirement for Maritimes residents to quarantines.
We should welcome tourists from neighbouring provinces with
low rates of infection and the risk is prudently assessed. I do however believe
that we should follow President Ronald Reagan’s advice to “trust but verify”.
He used this signature phrase when negotiating nuclear disarmament with the
Soviet Union. This advice should guide us when considering “Bubbling” with any
other province. We should trust and welcome neighbours, but verify safety and
not rely solely on self-reporting by tourists of their freedom from Covid-19.
We know that full time residents who are returning to the
province have a priority claim to enter the province. Yet even these residents
are required to quarantine or self-isolate. Essential workers who have no
symptoms of Covid-19
are allowed to enter and to leave the province without
quarantine. Residents who work outside the province but whose full time
residence is within the province, are granted exemptions but yet are required to
quarantine, as are rotational workers.
People arriving from the Maritimes under the framework of the
“Atlantic Bubble” are allowed entry without quarantine. Creation of the
Atlantic Bubble has the effect of placing residents of the Maritimes in a privileged
position where they can enter the province without 14 day quarantine, a
privilege not available even to permanent residents of our province.
People who visit the province for compassionate family
reasons, perhaps to visit a sick or dying relative, can be granted exemptions,
but they must still quarantine for 14 days. Canadians living outside the
Atlantic Provinces who have second homes in this province have been denied
entry, up to this point, even though most would be willing to self-isolate for 14
days.

Canadian Bubble: A High Risk Approach

The province has been involved in discussions with other
provinces about a “Canadian Bubble” which would allow people to visit without
quarantine or testing. The Premier has indicated
 that any decision to enter
into this arrangement has been held in abeyance.

Some jurisdictions rely on a combination of access criteria,
including self-isolation and testing. Iceland allows visitors to enter if they
will either quarantine or present themselves for testing. New Zealand requires
visitors to undergo both testing and quarantine. In fact they must be tested at
least
twice in New Zealand during their period of self-isolation.  New Zealand strikes me as a good model to
follow (see below), along with South Korea.
In addition to Covid-19 testing upon arrival, South Korea
requires installation of an app for contact tracing and must quarantine for 14
days after arrival (see below). NL has no such explicit requirement for testing
and app installation but both requirements should play an important role in our
control of imported infections.
Testing, quarantine and contact tracing in South Korea: 

Government boasts of its balanced, cautious and incremental
approach. Yet it made an abrupt policy shift when entering the Atlantic Bubble.
It could have moved in a phased approach by first allowing tourists from the
Maritime Provinces to be exempted from the outright prohibition on entry but to
be subject to the same quarantine as faced by full time residents of the
province.
  Tourists may not be prepared
to spend 14 days in quarantine but yet willing to undertake one or more tests
and install an app for contact tracing. A better approach to the Atlantic
Bubble might have been to allow tourists from the Maritimes to choose between
14 day quarantine and two
  tests, the
first
  upon arrival and the second before
the end of the quarantine period, with installation of an app common to both
options. 
The Premier and the Minister of Health have signalled they are
not yet ready to make another big move at this time. I find this encouraging
because it recognizes the risk of lifting controls. But if government decides
to embrace a “Canadian Bubble” at some future time it should be implemented
gradually, through a phased approach based on predetermined metrics or
triggers.
I know personally of a resident of the province whose wife is
an American citizen and resident living in the US and cannot join her husband
in Newfoundland for a short visit.  The
problem is not with the Government of Canada, but rather with the Government of
Newfoundland and Labrador.  The husband
has contacted the responsible Covid-19 authorities by both e-mail and
telephone, with a commitment to self-isolate for a 14-day period, but has
received no response, not even the courtesy of a receipt of such contacts. Yet
people living in the Maritimes are admitted without quarantine and without
testing.
I know former residents of the province who reside in the
Toronto area but who have a second home in NL who have not been allowed to
visit. How can they be rejected when they are fully prepared to undertake
self-isolation while Maritime tourists are welcomed, with no testing, contact
app or quarantine?
Conclusion
The people of the province have indicated they support a
cautious approach. They are concerned about changes in the rules which have the
potential quickly to undermine our relative safety and security. They need to
know what is happening in order to be confident that the rules currently in
place are giving them adequate protection. They need to be part of the
decision-making process. Sadly, government has ignored pleas for greater public
engagement.
1.         Having
eradicated the virus, our goal should be to remain virus free. Remember the
virus cannot enter on its own, without a human host. We can control further
infections! It is within our power to remain virus free, but only with tight
management
2.         The Atlantic
Bubble concept represents too big a risk. Ramping this up to create a “Canadian
Bubble” is an even greater risk. We need to reconsider the dramatic shift in
policy underlying these “Bubbles”. The “Canadian Bubble” would virtually
dismantle the system we have put in place by removing in one sweeping change
the requirement to self-isolate. My recommendation is that the Atlantic Bubble
should immediately be reconsidered and replaced by a tighter regime, one which
combines quarantine, testing as well as installation of an app for contact
tracing, as policy instruments.
3.         This is not
the time for a Canadian Bubble. Instead of entering a “Bubble” we should be
tightening our controls over imported infections by adding Covid-19 diagnostic
tests to our toolkit, along with a contact tracing app, combining it with
self-isolation, as other jurisdictions have done. This is not the time to relax
our controls. When that time comes we should not adopt the massive shift which
underlies the Atlantic Bubble but instead adopt a more gradual approach.
4.         We should
recognize the special case of people with family members, such as spouses and
other relatives, living in the province and people living in other provinces
who have a second home. These people with strong family connections and roots
in the province should be exempted but subject to the criteria established by
the province, currently self-quarantine for 14 days. Tight management can be
combined with compassion and we can remain virus free.

In his National Post article Tom Blackwell quotes Amir
Attaran, a health policy professor at the University of Ottawa, who said “he’s
not concerned about the exemptions so much as what he called the “total
absence” of enforcement for those who are in quarantine.”

This echoes my post of April 27 when I said that “We can take
control of the coronavirus by preventing its importation through tighter
measures at points of entry. We can increase testing and contact tracing. We
can avoid a second wave if all hands are on deck and all citizens are valued
for their opinions. All citizens must be vigilant to ensure that our government
is acting in our best interest. Remember it is “we the people” who must
ultimately exercise oversight over our government.”

David Vardy

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