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The Standing Committee on Health reconvened on Tuesday March 31 via teleconference to oversee and monitor the federal government’s COVID-19 response plan. I would like to thank the representatives from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Department of Health, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) for joining committee and answering our questions. I have outlined below a couple of key takeaways from the meeting.
When it comes to screening, each of us expects different measures, but it’s important to note that the CBSA and agents across the country are following the advice of the PHAC officials. In detail below are measures taken for passengers arriving in Canada by air:
- Before boarding a plane, air carriers prevent passengers who are symptomatic from boarding.
- If a passenger becomes symptomatic in flight, they are segregated immediately and handed off to Public Health officials at arrivals.
- Asymptomatic passengers proceed to Primary Inspection Kiosk (PIK) machines in customs halls where they are asked questions regarding symptoms and acknowledge they will be subjecting themselves to 14 days of mandatory isolation.
- In the baggage halls, CBSA officers are found roving and looking for people displaying symptoms. If any are found, they are referred to Public Health officials.
- Upon departure, passengers are given forms about how to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and acknowledge their mandatory isolation a second time.
Those crossing the border by land can expect the same measures as above. However, the 14 days of mandatory isolation is not required to those considered essential travelers – commercial vehicles or essential workers who need to cross the border daily.
With respect to Canadians abroad, while our federal government is working around the clock to bring Canadians home, the reality is that it is not possible to facilitate everyone’s return home. In an answer to my question regarding services available, GAC highlighted that Canadians remaining abroad:
- are being provided instructions and practical tips on preparedness similar to what Canadians are being told at home;
- are being informed of local restrictions and what will happen to them in different circumstances;
- are being told how to reach out to the embassy in case they become ill or believe they are sick for the assistance that is available 24/7; and
- will have their communications with their families facilitated if and when they are hospitalized or need medical care.
Witnesses were also asked important questions about the importance of physical distancing, the efforts to protect the mental health Canadians and procurement efforts for medical supplies in Canada. The meeting in full can be found in audio or text formats.
I would like to thank everyone for their dedication and commitment to responding to this unprecedented global crisis in dealing with the health and safety of our communities and in bringing Canadians home.
I would also like to thank the House of Commons technical staff for working diligently to find a solution on short notice so the committee could meet virtually for the first time ever.
Tony Van Bynen, MP