Federal-provincial co-ordination might have prevented COVID-19 outbreak, says premier

An outbreak of COVID-19 in the Maritimes on the weekend might have been avoided if Canada Border Services had better communication with the provinces, says P.E.I. Premier Dennis King.

The outbreak, including four out of five new cases on P.E.I. and one in Nova Scotia, started with a man travelling from the U.S. to Canada on a student visa. The man was reportedly planning to study on P.E.I. but was turned away at Confederation Bridge because he did not have pre-approval.

As it turned out, the man did have COVID-19. He spread it to a P.E.I. man he met with in Nova Scotia, and the Island man spread it to three other people back on P.E.I.

Speaking on CBC’s Island Morning Tuesday, King said while he doesn’t have the specifics of this case, it is likely the man would not have been admitted to the province for study at this time, despite having a student visa allowing him to study in Canada.

“We need to have a greater, in-synch protocol in place between the border services and the provincial jurisdictions,” said King.

“When an individual crosses the international border, such as into Toronto, are border agents asking them if your final destination is X, have you been in touch with that jurisdiction to make sure all of your protocols are met. What we’re trying to determine now is, is that question being asked.”

King noted that P.E.I. has turned away dozens of travellers at Confederation Bridge for not having documentation.

Governments are still working on putting in place systems so that border controls can work efficiently and effectively, King said.

Bubble still open

The new cases in the Maritimes came on the same weekend as freedom of movement around Atlantic Canada.

With the opening of the Atlantic bubble, residents of the four eastern provinces can move around the region without having to self-isolate. Border controls between the provinces remain in place.

Officials on P.E.I. have emphasized that this outbreak is in no way connected to the Atlantic bubble, and King said he is not at this time considering closing it.

Dozens of travellers have been turned back at Confederation Bridge because they did not have the proper documentation. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

P.E.I.’s contact tracing system was tested by this outbreak and it worked very well, he said.

“In this particular case I’m very, very pleased and proud of the public health officials and how they’ve undertaken their jobs,” said King.

He said he would only consider closing the bubble if an outbreak caused a strain on either the contact tracing system or the health system.

But he emphasized he is ready to shut the bubble down, and do it quickly, to protect the health of Islanders.

More from CBC P.E.I. 

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