The Current

Canada playing global role with coronavirus quarantine — but ethics expert urges support for people confined

We talk to federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu about the 176 people beginning quarantine in Ontario after flying in from the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. What are the ethics behind protective measures like this?

Coming weeks will show if global co-operation effective: Health Minister Patty Hajdu

One of the rooms at CFB Trenton in Ontario, where the 176 Canadians will be quarantined for the next two weeks. (Mark Gollom/CBC)
Listen19:09

Read Story Transcript

The decision to quarantine 176 people returning to Canada from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak is part of Canada's effort "to really be a global citizen," says Health Minister Patty Hajdu. 

"This is kind of where the virus will either peak, or where it will actually decline," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"The object of the quarantine is the containment of the disease within Canada, and obviously our global contribution to containing the spread widely across the globe."

Canada has just seven of the 31,481 cases reported globally, which Hajdu described as "so far, so good" in terms of containing the spread. 

"But the next weeks will really demonstrate to the world how well we've done together." 

The 176 passengers on board the plane from Wuhan will now enter a 14-day quarantine period at the army base in Ontario. 0:55

The airlift from Wuhan, China landed at CFB Trenton in Ontario on Friday morning. The military base will now quarantine all 176 people for a 14-day period, allowing families to stay together, but otherwise barring contact.

"Every symptom will be monitored and people will be checked if they have any of those symptoms that are associated with the illness," Hajdu told Galloway. 

Bioethicist Max Smith said it's important to remember that the quarantine is for the benefit of those living freely outside it. 

"Those people being quarantined are actually discharging an ethical obligation of their own, to make sure that the rest of us don't get sick," said Smith, an assistant professor in the School of Health Studies and Department of Philosophy at Western University.

"So we in turn have a reciprocal obligation to make sure that they're supported in the best ways possible."

Hajdu acknowledged that those quarantined were already suffering from stress and boredom from the lockdown they experienced in Wuhan, and said that officials at Trenton would be providing recreational facilities, including children's play areas.

"I think they've got two more weeks of not a lot of activity, but we do have mental health counsellors on site, we've got people to help with social supports," said Hajdu.

Boxes of disposable diapers and teddy bears at the Canadian Red Cross station inside an air hangar at CFB Trenton. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Quarantines aim to 'curb fear'

China announced new quarantine measures yesterday, including house-to-house temperature checks and confinement at quarantine centres

Smith described the new measures as concerning, but added that "at the epicentre of the disease, you would expect more aggressive counter-measures than we're seeing in Canada for instance."

The National looks inside the quarantine zone at CFB Trenton where the Canadians airlifted out of Wuhan, China, will stay for two weeks. 2:12

He told Galloway that sometimes measures like these are "not necessarily put in place to curb the spread of the disease per se, even though they may be effective at doing that." 

"Oftentimes they're put in place to curb fear, or at least to give the impression that the government is in control and is doing something about the outbreak."

Several countries including the U.S. have closed their borders to travellers from China, but Smith echoed World Health Organization recommendations that say border controls are ineffective at controlling the spread of the virus.

"You only want to use those very restrictive public health counter measures when it's absolutely necessary, and when there's evidence that suggests that will actually work," he said. 


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Alison Masemann, Ines Colabrese and Paul MacInnis.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.