Re­lax­ing rules in one prov­ince could hurt oth­ers, ex­perts warn

‘We are go­ing to have to make sure we’re on the same page with this’

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - COLETTE DERWORIZ

In­fec­tious-dis­ease ex­perts say prov­inces look­ing to relax re­stric­tions re­lated to COVID-19 need to con­sider their neigh­bours.

Prince Ed­ward Is­land, where the caseload is low, is aim­ing to ease mea­sures put in place to slow the spread in late April and re­open busi­nesses in mid-May.

The Saskatchew­an govern­ment out­lined a plan Thurs­day for how some busi­nesses and ser­vices could be al­lowed to re­sume next month if the num­ber of cases stays low.

Dr. Craig Jenne, an in­fec­tious­dis­ease re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary, said eas­ing re­stric­tions in one prov­ince could present chal­lenges for oth­ers.

“Many prov­inces in Canada have no hard borders,” he said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press. “Al­berta, Saskatchew­an, Man­i­toba — we are not ex­actly is­lands where we can cut off travel be­tween prov­inces.

“We are go­ing to have to make sure we’re on the same page with this.”

As of Thurs­day, Saskatchew­an had recorded 331 cases, in­clud­ing four deaths, but less than 20 per cent of cases were con­sid­ered ac­tive.

The prov­ince’s chief med­i­cal health of­fi­cer has said any eas­ing of re­stric­tions would have to be done care­fully.

Next door, in Al­berta, there are more than 3,000 cases, in­clud­ing 66 deaths.

Dr. Stephanie Smith, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in in­fec­tious dis­eases at the Univer­sity of Al­berta, said it may make sense for prov­inces with a low num­ber of cases to con­sider let­ting up on COVID-19 mea­sures.

“When they do that, the most im­por­tant thing is that they still have an abil­ity to iden­tify new cases and new con­tact trac­ing,” she said.

“(They need) re­ally ro­bust testing and trac­ing so that you can iden­tify any new pa­tients and make sure they are ac­tu­ally self-iso­lat­ing.

“It’s im­por­tant in terms of en­sur­ing you don’t get into an un­con­trolled sit­u­a­tion again.”

Jenne added that out­breaks in High River, Alta., and sev­eral long-term care homes show how quickly a sit­u­a­tion can change once the novel coro­n­avirus starts spread­ing.

“As soon as we let our vig­i­lance down in screen­ing and iso­la­tion ... we will see a spike back in Cana­dian com­mu­ni­ties, we will see an in­crease in cases, we will see an in­crease in hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and, un­for­tu­nately, we will see an in­crease in deaths once these hot spots start pop­ping up.”

For ex­am­ple, an out­break at Im­pe­rial Oil’s Kearl oil­sands pro­ject in north­east­ern Al­berta has been linked to cases in Saskatchew­an, Bri­tish Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Sco­tia.

“This virus does not travel in the air,” Jenne said. “It trav­els on peo­ple and the more peo­ple move be­tween pro­vin­cial borders and even within their own com­mu­nity, this is how this virus gets around.”

Jenne and Smith said that’s why so­cial dis­tanc­ing has been so ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing the num­ber of cases in Canada.

Each prov­ince and ter­ri­tory has dif­fer­ent ap­proaches for how to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Man­i­toba has set up check­stops on ma­jor high­ways to help in­form trav­ellers about pub­lic health mea­sures in place.

Some ju­ris­dic­tions such as New Brunswick and the north­ern ter­ri­to­ries have re­stricted non-res­i­dents from en­ter­ing or re­quire any­one who comes into the prov­ince to self-iso­late for up to 14 days.

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