The Current

U.S.-Canada border could remain closed until next year unless 'something miraculous' happens: doctor

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says Canada needs to be very careful around international travel and that the United States does not appear to be "getting this epidemic under control."

U.S. does not appear to be 'getting this epidemic under control': Dr. Isaac Bogoch

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travel since March. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
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The U.S.-Canada border should remain closed until next year unless "something miraculous" happens to lower COVID-19 rates south of the border, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. 

"They're having over 50,000 new cases per day in the country, and on top of that, it doesn't appear like they are getting this epidemic under control," said Bogoch, a physician and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital.

"I can't think off the top of my head about what a number or a metric would look like, but I can tell you that [reopening the border] is going to be a long, long, long way away," he told The Current's guest host Rosemary Barton.  

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island confirmed new cases of COVID-19 this week, believed to be connected to a man in his 20s who flew from the United States to Halifax via Toronto. He came to Canada on a student visa but failed to self isolate upon entering Nova Scotia.

"This is just a stark reminder that we can't let our guard down and that … places that have been COVID-free for some time can certainly import this, and this can cause an outbreak," said Bogoch. 

WATCH | COVID-19 could close Canada-U.S. border for a year, expert says:

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The man travelling from the U.S. was trying to get to P.E.I. but stopped at the provincial border because he did not have the right paperwork. He is believed to have spread the virus to another man who visited Nova Scotia on June 26, and who returned to the island three days later, leading to the new P.E.I. cases. 

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness told The Current in an email that the man was a foreign national who arrived in Canada from the U.S. but did not give any other details.

Bogoch said new outbreaks resulting from travel between provinces is a possibility but "far less likely to happen than if we had free international travel."

"On the worry-ometer, this is much lower than international travel."

He said that Canada has "to be very, very careful about travellers and especially with travellers coming from high-burden areas, namely the United States." 

The daily number of new cases across Canada has been below 500 for the past month, but the number of new cases in most U.S. states is rising. On Wednesday, the country reached three million cases and more than 130,000 deaths. 

WATCH | Human cost of COVID-19 in U.S. hidden by inequality, fuelled by division:

As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates, the United States has already paid a ruinous cost in human life, and it’s hidden by inequality and fuelled by division. 5:43

Bogoch said that even if the U.S. implemented the most stringent public health measures right now, it would take time to turn the corner — but "they're not taking those measures, unfortunately."

"I'm not a betting guy, but if pushed I'd say that the vaccine is going to get here before the U.S. has their epidemic under control."

Rules need to be enforced: Bogoch

Canada and the U.S. agreed in March to temporarily close the border to non-essential travel, while keeping it open to commercial traffic and essential workers who cross for work. The agreement has been extended every month, most recently to July 21.

However, among certain exceptions, U.S. citizens are allowed to drive through Canada to reach Alaska for essential reasons. 

While travellers are supposed to take a direct path, there have been several reports of U.S. cars stopping in British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon for sightseeing and shopping. 

Yukon resident Murray Lundberg says he met a U.S. couple in a lineup at a grocery store in downtown Whitehorse. 

Whitehorse resident Murray Lundberg says he has met U.S. travellers stopping in his city on their way to Alaska. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"They were from the eastern states, I think Pennsylvania, and they were going to Alaska, where they apparently have a home," said Lundberg.

"So I asked: 'What brought you down here?'"

He said they replied: "Well, we heard that the shopping was good here."

"I guess never mind the regulations," he told Barton.

While some U.S. travellers have been fined for stopping en route to Alaska, Bogoch thinks the rules need to be more stringently enforced — including the requirement for anyone returning to Canada from abroad to isolate for 14 days. 

"The risk of reintroducing this infection is high, not just from the United States, I'd say globally," he told Barton. 

"If you don't isolate for a period of 14 days, there should be consequences, and I think those consequences should obviously be applied and also publicized."

"It's not a free ride."


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin, Emily Rendell-Watson and Arianne Robinson.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story described the traveller to Halifax as a U.S. man. In fact, while he travelled from the U.S., his nationality has not been released.
    Jul 09, 2020 1:29 PM ET

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