Why experts say dividing travellers by vaccination status at airports is a good idea
TORONTO -- As Canada prepares to welcome non-essential international travellers, Toronto Pearson Airport and Vancouver International Airport are implementing separate lines for arriving passengers based on their vaccination status.
It's a move that health experts say will make travelling easier and safer for vaccinated travellers while at the same time encouraging unvaccinated people to get their jabs.
"This will allow people to move very quickly, in and out of customs and whatnot," said Saskatoon-based intensive care unit physician Dr. Hassan Masri in an interview with CTV News Channel. "But also in addition to that, I think it's good to have a way to minimize the risk of interactions with other people who are potentially higher risk of having COVID-19 or spreading it."
"This is a great idea, and hopefully it gives those who are unvaccinated extra incentives to go and get their vaccine," Masri added.
These measures come as the federal government lifted the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, as well as the airport hotel quarantine, for Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning to Canada who can provide proof that they're fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Canadian travellers will still be subject to the existing quarantine requirements.
The same policies will also apply to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who will be allowed to enter Canada starting Aug. 9.
Currently, the separated lines at the airports only apply for travellers flying in from the U.S. or international destinations. But Toronto-based emergency physician Dr. Kashif Pirzada thinks it should be implemented for domestic travellers, too.
"I think it should be brought in domestically," Pirzada told CTV News Channel. "And I think with cases spiking in Alberta and B.C., other provinces that are handling the pandemic a bit better should protect themselves and bring in these same restrictions."
But not all airports are on board. Montreal-Trudeau International Airport had implemented separate lines based on vaccination status as a pilot project on July 5 and 6, the first two days after the feds lifted the quarantine requirement for vaccinated travellers.
But the airport found that that it had failed to produce desired results.
"The goal was to have a smooth process, however, the configuration of the primary border control inspection line area and the volumes of fully vaccinated passengers did not allow the goal of smoothness to be achieved," Montreal airports public relations director Anne Marcotte told the Canadian Press.
VACCINE PASSPORTS: A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME?
With Canadian border service agents asking for proof of vaccination for inbound travellers to Canada, it's raised the question of whether Canada should issue vaccine passports or certificates.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford rejected the idea, telling reporters this month, "We're not gonna have a split society."
But Pirzada says vaccine passports could be another measure that might be able to push people to get the vaccine, if they haven't already, in order to avoid a fourth wave of COVID-19.
"You know, we've tried the carrot approach, maybe it's time with vaccine passports for a more coercive approach to convince people on the fence," said Pirzada. "There's people who will always refuse and they have that right. But we need to move on as a society. I don't think this economy in this country can afford a fourth lockdown."
Masri points out that even before the pandemic, many countries around the world required travellers to present proof of immunization for diseases such as yellow fever or hepatitis A and B.
"You couldn't enter many Caribbean countries or many Southeast Asian countries or African countries without showing that you have adequate protection from certain diseases," said Masri.
"I think that the idea of vaccine passports is not all bad, if we managed to do it in a way that protects the privacy of people, and does not give the government a lot of ability to in the future to control who does what."
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Toronto