December 10, 2023

“Planes coming in from China now are coming from an area that has an uncontrolled outbreak” — Dr. Brian Conway

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The federal government’s requirement for passengers coming from China, Hong Kong and Macau to test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours prior to departing for Canada is being lauded by the president and medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre.

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“This is a little bit different than the previous situation where on an entire plane, if you were to screen the passengers, there would be only a few (COVID-infected people), if any,” Dr. Brian Conway said on Monday.

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“The planes that are coming in from China now are coming in from an area that has an uncontrolled outbreak, possibly with a new variant.

“So that’s a little different than in the past.”

Planes from China landing at other international airports have reported COVID infections rates of 38 to 52 per cent of passengers, Conway said.

“So if you just do the math of all the flights from China that would land in Canada, in a week that’d be 10,000 cases brought in, with possibly this new variant (XBB. 1.5, also known as the Kraken variant).”

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Prior to COVID there were 55 flights from China carrying more than 15,500 people landing in Vancouver every week, according to YVR.

The announcement from Ottawa might also have the benefit of putting pressure on Chinese officials to increase reportage of cases and even move toward using Western vaccines, added Tom Koch, an expert at UBC on the history of pandemics and public health policies.

Adrian Dix, the provincial health minister, said in a press release he also supports Ottawa’s decision, which begins Jan. 5.

The province will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation around the world while working with its federal partners to ensure the public is protected and informed, Dix said.

The federal government said the measure, announced on New Year’s Eve, is “in response to the surge of COVID-19 in the People’s Republic of China and given the limited epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data available on these cases.”

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People aged two and older who are travelling from China will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to the airline, taken no more than two days before their departure, before boarding a flight to Canada.

Meanwhile, Dix said the Public Health Agency of Canada is also implementing a pilot project with Vancouver International Airport to test wastewater from aircraft.

He said this project, an expansion of one already in place at Toronto Pearson International Airport, will assess the COVID-19 prevalence from various regions around the world and monitor for new variants of concern.

It’s another move applauded by the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre’s medical director.

“It’s an amazing idea,” Conway said. “That’s the way we count cases.

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“Waiting for mortality to go up … mortality is a lagging indicator, it happens weeks and weeks after the transmission have occurred. And hospitalizations are not early indicators, either.”

So in an area such as Vancouver, he said, which historically has seen a high number of flights from China, monitoring the wastewater on planes is vital.

Most importantly, Conway said, is British Columbians should all have as their New Year’s resolutions to get their bivalent vaccines if they haven’t already.

“That is certainly going to protect us against any outbreak that may occur, and redouble our efforts to have sick people either stay home or in some way have measures to reduce the risk of them transmitting the infection.”

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With files from The Canadian Press and Douglas Todd

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