Premier continues call for tougher border restrictions despite provincial data indicating travel not a major contributor to COVID spread

An average of 43 travel-related cases reported in the last 30 days, compared to over 1,600 close contact cases

The premier’s office released a statement on Tuesday, with some strong words about the federal government’s lack of action at Canada’s borders. Premier Doug Ford says it has led to “countless” COVID-19 cases in Ontario that could have been avoided.

Thing is, the province’s own data shows that travel-related spread is only a small slice of the COVID-19 transmission pie.

According to information released by Public Health Ontario, there has been an average of 43.2 travel-related cases of COVID reported in the last thirty days. The health body does not make a distinction between interprovincial and international travel either, so there is no public information available to determine whether these cases came from abroad or from a neighbouring province.

Public Health Ontario reported an average of 1,615.6 cases acquired through close contact over the past thirty days, as well as an average of 1,196 community-acquired cases over the same timeframe. Close contact has consistently been the most common way of contracting COVID-19 for months.

Source of COVID-19 infection for the last 90 days. The purple line running along the bottom represents travel-related infections

If travel-related spread is so marginal, why the focus on border control? Barrie 360 reached out to the Premier’s office and spoke with MPP David Piccini, who has been among the most vocal in his party on border security. He says it’s a numbers game. “Colleagues of mine have highlighted that someone will come in with a variant of concern, they will then spread that to 19 people, those 19 people are classified as community-based transmission. So that statistic does not give an accurate picture of what is happening,” he told Barrie 360.

The opposition’s deputy leader, NDP MPP Sara Singh, says Piccini has it wrong. “It’s really disappointing, often, to listen to Mr. Piccini mischaracterize the problem,” she said to Barrie 360. “The data is very clear: it’s a very small percentage of folks that are coming into our borders that are contributing to the spread. The data is exceptionally clear that the spread is happening in workplaces, in our essential workplaces.”

Piccini pointed to a Public Health Agency of Canada study that showed over five thousand cases of COVID were detected in travellers coming into Canada in February, claiming those cases were detected in people who never quarantined. The same study indicated over 3,700 people tested positive the day they arrived, and not after the fact, as suggested by Piccini. Another 1,400 or so tested positive about ten days after arrival, as prescribed by the federal government. However, all were required to provide a negative COVID-19 test prior to travel to Canada.

Singh says that’s proof the system is working. “Absolutely, it’s important that we are testing at the border, and that we do have stricter measures put in place there. But at the end of the day, I think that there is a real case to be made here, that shows us that the Ford government failed to protect people in our communities, our essential workers who are, unfortunately, dying, because they didn’t have access to paid sick days.”

Piccini points out Ontario’s land borders are especially vulnerable and have lead to an underground industry. “We’ve seen loopholes at our land borders of people cabbing it up,” he claimed. “There’s booming cab industries being reported in Ogdensburg and Niagara, of industries developing overnight. cab people to the border, and then people walk across.” While land border crossing rules differ from those at airports, travellers are required to show a negative COVID test conducted within the previous 72 hours and prove plans are in place to self-isolate. Several social media videos have cropped up, showing Canadians crossing land borders uninhibited and apparently without quarantine.

Strict lockdowns in some regions may be needed to halt rise in COVID variants

Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer says there seems to be a “preoccupation” with what’s outside Canada’s borders when the real issue is within. “At the end of the end day, if you look at the actual risk in terms of importation, the actual number of cases with respect to people crossing the border compared to what’s happening in the communities in many of the hardest-hit provinces, I think that’s where the public health focus has to be,” said Dr. Howard Njoo at a news conference April 30.

Singh says the Premier’s preoccupation with the border and threats of a fourth wave made up of vaccine-resistant variants is a means of distracting from the real issues. “The premier is trying to deflect from his own responsibility. And I think it’s very unfortunate that he’s using this rhetoric and very divisive tactics to blame other countries, and people, frankly, for his own government’s policy failures,” she concluded. “They’re grasping at straws and blaming everyone else but themselves for the situation that we find ourselves in.”

Data obtained by the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates about 1.5 per cent of all air travellers coming into Canada test positive for COVID-19.