Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions based on honour system

When Canada introduced new screening measures at the country’s airports and border crossings in response to the coronavirus outbreak, it had a lot of people wondering if they go far enough. Why? Because it appears Canada is operating on the honour system.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the nation. His comments were in response to Canada Border Services Agency getting ripped by media for being too lax on screening. Do the “enhanced” procedures go far enough? And, are they really enhanced?

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Essentially, someone arriving in Canada is asked if they have any symptoms of coronavirus. If they say they don’t, they’re welcomed to the country. Yes, it appears to be that simple:

“Do you feel sick?”

“Nope.”

“Welcome to Canada.”

From there, travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days once they’re in the country. The theory is, according to Canadian officials, that visitors won’t want to spend two weeks in solitary confinement if they come to Canada so they just won’t bother travelling.

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Again, this is a request from a polite Canadian asking someone to do something out of the goodness of their heart. Sure, it’s likely there are decent people who would oblige but the mentality of most is probably different. (Because people would never just give an answer so they have an easier time with a border agent, right?)

When I arrived home from Florida a few weeks ago, there were new questions on the kiosk at the airport’s customs area. It asked if I had been to China or the greatly affected areas at that time. All I had to do was say no and I was on my way. When I got to the agent at the desk, he asked me the same questions, I again said no and was welcomed home.

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By doing this – even with the updated questioning announced this week – Canada is working on the honour system of telling the truth. Saying you have symptoms will get you questioned further and/or denied entry. If you’ve started making the trek and you’re in the homestretch of reaching your final destination, why would you knowingly risk responses that would get you turned away? You wouldn’t. You’re fairly committed to your travel journey at that point.

Instead, Canada’s border agents are doing nothing scientific or medically to confirm a person’s health unless they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. Otherwise, there’s no enhanced screening at all – save for questions for which a traveller can easily provide a lie so as not to sound the alarm on their condition.

To that, I ask: What could possibly go wrong?

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