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EDITORIAL: Messages mixed on travel bans

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has suspended passenger air travel from the United Kingdom from Dec. 21 until at least Jan. 6.

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This is in a bid to contain the spread of a new, highly infectious strain of COVID-19.

That raises the question of why air travel from China, and in particular from Wuhan, the original epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t suspended almost a year ago in January, at the start of the outbreak.

If that would have been an overreaction, racist and ineffective at containing the virus back then, as we were told at the time by the government, why is it being done now?

Alternatively, if it’s considered effective now, why wasn’t it done at the start of the pandemic, when it would have done the most good?

We now know that countries that were quickest off the mark in taking such measures as restricting air travel and rigorously testing incoming passengers for symptoms of infection did the best at containing the pandemic.

Taiwan, for example, began boarding planes containing passengers from Wuhan to assess them for fevers and coughs, before disembarking, on Dec. 31, 2019, the same day the World Health Organization reported the emergence of a new pneumonia of unknown origin in that city.

Those exhibiting symptoms were put into quarantine.

Today Taiwan, with a population of 23.78 million people, 130 km off the coast of mainland China, with 2.71 million visitors from China annually before the pandemic, has recorded a total of seven deaths from COVID-19, or 0.3 per million of population.

Canada, with a population of 37.59 million and 571,000 visitors from China last year — a latecomer to restricting international air travel — has had 14,800 deaths from COVID-19, or 390 per million.

Public confidence isn’t helped when governments change their tactics in fighting COVID-19 without explaining why.

For months, Canadians were told by the Trudeau government there was no point to restricting air travel or closing Canada’s borders.

That stood until mid-March, when it suddenly reversed field and began directing a reduced number of international flights to four Canadian airports, while closing the land border to what was deemed non-essential traffic.

Small wonder people are confused about the government’s strategy.

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