Keeping the Canada-United States border closed will help contain the spread of the coronavirus as long as there remains a huge disparity in numbers between the two nations, Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. government official on infectious diseases, said in an interview with Global News.
The coronavirus numbers in the U.S. are “unacceptably high” heading into the fall, Fauci said. As of Friday, there have been more than 6.1 million cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. In comparison, Canada had just over 132,000 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“If you have an area of the country with very, very low activity, obviously there’s concern about letting people in from countries in which there’s a high rate of infection,” Fauci told Global News’ Jackson Proskow on Friday.
Because of the huge gap in numbers between the neighbouring countries, Fauci said he supports the border closure, as “it does have a positive effect on keeping a lid on things.” But when there isn’t such a large gap in COVID-19 numbers, there is debate on the effectiveness, he added.
The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to “discretionary” travel like vacations and shopping trips since mid-March. The agreement has been extended on a monthly basis and is currently set to expire Sept. 21. Canadians who choose to travel abroad, including to the U.S., are required to quarantine upon their return.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously said that Canada is in no rush to open its borders as doing so may spark a second wave of coronavirus cases.
Spike in colder months
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. is “quite high.” He added he worries that going into the fall, when the weather cools off and people start crowding inside, countries will see a spike in numbers.
“So there’s a considerable amount of concern in the United States now about what’s going to happen over the Labor Day weekend, because when you have a holiday weekend following the Fourth of July, following Memorial Day, we saw these surges coming up of cases.”
As people start heading indoors in colder months, Fauci said indoor bars are also a huge concern.
And that example can be seen in Canada.
This week, health officials in Quebec City said they’re fighting a spike in the number of infections in the region after a karaoke bar was linked to dozens of COVID-19 infections, including at three local schools.
Bars are crowded indoors places that create a “perfect setup or a transmission for a respiratory-borne disease,” Fauci said.
“When people are in bars, they’re drinking. They let their guard down, they take their masks off. They are crowded,” he said, adding that he encourages restaurants to only allow patrons in at 50 or 25 per cent capacity and also offer outdoor dining on patios.
“Those are the kind of things that are good. And then to do that, you lessen the likelihood of transmission,” he said.
2020 coronavirus vaccine?
On Thursday, U.S. public health officials and Pfizer said a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for distribution as soon as late October, just ahead of the November U.S. election.
But Fauci said he isn’t counting on having a vaccine ready that soon.
“There are a lot of vaccines in play right now,” he said, adding that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a safe and effective vaccine may be ready by the end of 2020 or the first half of 2021.
Three vaccine candidates (Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca) are in Phase 3 clinical trials in the U.S., Fauci said, and that means they are in advanced testing to see if the vaccine is effective and safe.
Fauci warned about the “projection” for a vaccine to be finished before the 2020 U.S. election, as it’s only a “guesstimate.”
“They are not absolutes,” he said. “The projection is that we will know whether we have a safe and effective vaccine likely by the end of this calendar year, November or December, or the beginning of 2021, if, in fact, we do.”
Fauci said his major concern heading into the fall is “COVID-19 fatigue.” And not just in the U.S., but in Canada, too.
“We’ve been going through this stress and strain, everything from the economy to interruption of regular services to just the fatigue of having to be locked down,” he said.
“So I’m concerned that people are going to get so discouraged. They’re going to loosen up the kinds of attention to public health measures, which we need to continue to focus on if we’re going to keep this under control.”
But Fauci said he is optimistic this will end as long as people continue to be careful and adhere to measures like wearing masks and physical distancing.
“We will get back to normal. But if you’ll let your guard down, it’s not responsible to yourself as well as to society. So just try and hang in there.”