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Closing border with China could make COVID-19 situation worse: Health Minister

Last Updated Feb 17, 2020 at 3:36 pm PDT

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu speak about Canada's efforts to evacuate citizens from China during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, February 6, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says closing border could actually make it harder to detect spread of COVID-19

People could find alternative routes home and lie about where they have been

Closing borders and trade could dissuade countries from disclosing future outbreaks, Hajdu warns

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) –¬†Shutting out Chinese travellers and trade could actually make it harder to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Canada’s Health Minister, as some call for a complete closure of the border.

Patty Hajdu says even if Canada blocked all travel to and from China, people could find alternative routes and lie about where they’ve been, making it even harder to screen people coming in.

“The long-term implications of shutting down borers is one, they’re not very effective in controlling disease, as in fact they’re not effective at all,” she said. “The evidence says that when you shut down a border like that, it gets much hard to detect where people are coming from because people are determined to get into a country or return home.”

While some have criticized China’s response to the outbreak and debated whether the typically secretive country has been fully transparent with its information, Hajdu believes the country has been open.

“Within a week or so, they were letting the World Health Organization, and therefore all of the partner countries know that they had an outbreak on their hand and, more than that, they were sharing the sequence of the virus, which was really important to other countries like Canada to be able to have the evidence to do the investigation and testing in Canada.”

The threat of travel and trade bans could have prevented that, and sent a signal to other countries about future possible virus outbreaks.

“Imagine now, if countries were to suspect that if they had an outbreak, the border would get closed, there would be sanctions economically, and all of a sudden that transparency that the world relies on, in order to defeat viruses like coronavirus and protect the health of their citizens, imaging if in fact people stopped sharing that information,” she said. “We would, in a global health sense, be in a bit of a pickle.”

Hajdu made the comments after meeting with her B.C. counterpart Adrian Dix, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and members of the Vancouver Chinese Canadian community Monday. Local Chinese-Canadian businesses say they’ve lost revenue because of misinformation and racist sentiments surrounding COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency of Canada is reviewing its safety and equipment protocols for health care workers after the Canadian Federation of Nurses’ Unions criticized the national COVID-19 guidelines.

The union wrote to Hajdu last week to tell her the guidelines are unacceptable because they assume the virus cannot spread easily through the air, only through larger droplets from coughing or sneezing.

Canada’s current federal guidelines are in line with World Health Organization recommendations, however, other health bodies in the U.S. and European Union have called for added precautions.