The prime minister announced that Canada will be closing its borders to foreign travellers, with the exceptions of air crews, diplomats, immediate family members of citizens and U.S. citizens.
Trudeau also said that air operators will ban anyone who is showing symptoms of the virus from getting on a plane.
Anna Banerji, director of global and Indigenous health at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, told Global News that the move is not an over-reaction, but is warranted.
“I think if you look, most of the cases are related to travel coming from certain parts of the world,” Banerji said.
“It’s really the people who have been travelling and coming back who are sick and have the potential to spread it to other people.”
Four people in Canada have died of COVID-19, while provincial authorities reported 403 confirmed cases Monday afternoon, as well as 15 presumptive cases. Ten cases have been resolved.
Banerji said Canada doesn’t have the outbreak that some European countries are dealing with, and curbing travel is a good way of lowering the chances.
Alison Thompson, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, was less certain that such drastic travel limits would be effective.
“It’s generally not considered an effective way to manage the spread because it’s already here. It’s a little bit like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped,” Thompson said.
Thompson said officials could have other aims in mind, such as reassuring the public that they are willing to make drastic decisions for their safety.
“It may be the optics of it that they’re going for,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of clamouring for this, so maybe it’s a way of showing that they’re being responsive to public concerns. But it’s not really aligned with what the WHO is recommending.”
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization said that large-scale travel bans are not recommended.
In late February, the organization recommended against travel bans except in very limited circumstances, saying they are “ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.”
That hasn’t stopped countries from imposing travel restrictions.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced sweeping restrictions on travel to the United States from Europe last week. The European Union also announced limits on non-essential travel Monday.
Days before announcing the sweeping travel restrictions, Canadian officials also casted doubt over their effectiveness.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters last week that “viruses don’t know borders.”
“What we have to remember is viruses don’t know borders,” she told reporters.
“A border is not going to contain the virus. The borders are important measures though for making sure that people have important information about what to do when they’re in a particular country should they find themselves ill.”
Hajdu added: “Canadians think we can stop this at the border, but what we see is this is a global pandemic meaning that border measures are highly ineffective and in some cases can create harm.”
The health minister noted the example of Italy, which placed travel restrictions early on but is now dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in the world. As of Monday, Italy had more than 27,980 cases, with 2,158 deaths.
On Monday, Trudeau commented on Hajdu’s remarks from last week, saying that the government’s opinion has changed.
“In Canada, we based our decisions on public health recommendations that ensured that Canada’s approach worked for many, many weeks and keeping a very slow spread of the virus in Canada, but through contact tracing and other measures,” he said.
“We’ve now come to the point where the best advice from public health officials is that additional border member measures, on top of the social distancing measures that we are encouraging domestically, is the right combination to move forward.”
While there is some disagreement on border closures, both Banerji and Thompson agreed that it’s vital for Canadians to monitor their health, practice social distancing and self-isolate if needed — in an honest and effective manner.
“It’s impossible to police that, because there are so many people who are coming back from overseas. I think it’s really important for people to do that, I guess on an honour system, to do that to protect other people.”
Canadians have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days after returning from international travel. Those who are sick, or have a confirmed case of COVID-19, have also been told to isolate.
“That’s really the most effective thing that we can do,” Thompson said.
— With files from The Canadian Press