Concerns about effectiveness, racism as Canada prepares to test travellers from China for COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Medical community questions purpose of China-specific COVID-19 travel measures'
Medical community questions purpose of China-specific COVID-19 travel measures
Canada is set to renew COVID-19 restrictions on certain flights from Asia. The federal government says it's in response to a wave of new cases of the virus in China. But as Christa Dao reports, some are questioning how effective the measures will be – Jan 3, 2023

As Canada prepares to renew COVID-19 restrictions on flights originating in China and parts of Asia, some are questioning how effective the measure will be — and whether there will be unintended consequences.

Starting Wednesday night, travellers leaving China, Hong Kong and Macao will need to show proof of a negative test before flying to Canada, amid concern about the new XBB 1.5 variant.

But experts are already questioning the science behind the move. Asked Monday if the move would prevent new variants from arriving in B.C., provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry replied,”Absolutely not.”

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, associate professor at University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, told Global News the pandemic has already shown numerous times how geographic restrictions have failed.

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He pointed to U.K. travel restrictions when the Alpha variant arrived, India restrictions when the Delta variant arrived and restrictions on African countries when the Omicron variant emerged, none of which stopped outbreaks in Canada.

“If you look at human mobility and the spread of infectious diseases, policy like this will not impact the COVID trajectory we have here in Canada,” he said.

“By the time you find a new variant of concern in point A, it’s already in point B, C, D, and E, so targeted restrictions to point A do not have a significant meaningful impact.”

Click to play video: 'Kraken variant in B.C. and China’s COVID travel restrictions set to take effect'
Kraken variant in B.C. and China’s COVID travel restrictions set to take effect

Tung Chan, a former Vancouver city councillor and former CEO of non-profit SUCCESS, warned that the new measure risks once again stigmatizing Asian Canadians.

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During the height of the pandemic, there was a surge in anti-Asian racism in B.C., ranging from graffiti to slurs to outright assault, as some people conflated the virus with the Asian community.

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Chan believes the testing requirements are the result of the federal government caving to international “peer pressure,” but that the move could reinvigorate racism.

“One thing we have to do … is to disassociate Asians, in in this case Chinese-Canadians, from the country of China — As long as we continue to associate Canadians living Canada who are of Asian heritage and lump them together with China the country, we will always have this kind of conundrum,” he said.

“And if you look at the requirements of people having got test negative for COVID before being able to fly to Canada, it does not differentiate whether that individual is Caucasian, or Asian, or African, it is, as long as the flight originated directly from those three areas.”

The measure, however, has won support in other quarters.

Richmond City councillor Chak Au told Global News he was already getting calls from concerned community members about travellers from China before Ottawa announced the testing requirements.

“This is going to give better protection of the local people, especially in Richmond. We are the airport city, so people concerned about travellers coming in, bringing the virus,” he said.

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“Secondly, I think this is about getting more information. We have to track the information about the new variants that might come to Canada.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: China hits back at travel restrictions, EU offers free vaccines to Beijing amid surge in cases'
COVID-19: China hits back at travel restrictions, EU offers free vaccines to Beijing amid surge in cases

Au said he understands concerns about possible racism, but said the government and community groups had done much to combat anti-Asian hate in the last two years.

The testing measures, he added, are temporary.

“So lets wait and see,” he said.

The XBB 1.5 variant, which is spreading rapidly in Asia and is believe to now account for about 40 per cent of cases in the U.S.

Henry said Monday that the province was monitoring it closely to see whether it is more transmissible or more dangerous.


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