Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have done remarkably well in the pandemic of 2020. We have endured tremendous hardships in having our personal well being turned upside down by health care, education, social and economic systems spiralling away from us based on what could happen if we do not prepare. The bottom line is the province, like many other provinces and areas around the globe, was not ready for a virus on a scale never before witnessed or imagined.
As a municipal leader, early in the crisis I was encouraged to download a provincial PDF document on preparation for a pandemic. That document was last updated in 2009!
Preparations for a surge on a stretched, fragile health care network had to be done. Provincial political leadership was at its finest. However, the collateral damage of measures on the Newfoundland and Labrador society as a whole are yet to be realized.
We do not need a repeat. Schools need to open. Health care needs to address needs beyond pandemic anxiety. Industry needs to restart. Commercial enterprises need a boost in dealing with the new normal. Thank goodness we are getting there.
Outside of the Caul’s Funeral Home cluster in St. John’s, the absence of the positive virus cases within the province has been somewhat miraculous. Whole regions such as ours – the Southwest corner – have been virus free.
Thank you, residents. Your patience, kindness, and understanding of the need to protect everyones health and safety has been impeccable.
With talk of a possible second wave across the country new measures, following examples from private entities, have to be implemented. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are tired of living in fear of a virus outbreak. It is now time for the province to step things up to relieve the fear and anxiety by going on the offence to stop any chance of a second wave through a lobby for stricter controls beyond the province.
Getting to Newfoundland, by the very nature of its geography, is not easy. There are only two ways into the province – by air and by sea. Any virus spread within the province will be travel related.
If Newfoundland is to continue protecting its vulnerable and aged population, open schools and restore social and economic confidence, then strict measures beyond its entry points will have to be heightened.
Government has a responsibility to its population to ensure there be mandatory testing before individuals enter the province. This can be achieved as demonstrated by private industry.
The last identified positive virus case travelled to Newfoundland by plane. That individual was asymptomatic with no signs or flu-like symptoms. That person was in transition at Canada’s hub for air travel, taking a flight to Newfoundland, lasting hours with possible exposure to everyone on the self-contained air exchange bubble.
Once disembarking this individual was able to enter through the COVID-19 security measures imposed by our provincial government with relative ease.
Work related. Essential. Allowed to pass ‘Go’. Grab a taxi. No isolation required. Nothing in place at the airport prevented the virus from entering Newfoundland.
It was only after this individual was tested through protective measures of mandatory testing ordered by a private company, conducted by a private lab, that results indicated they were carrying the virus. Immediate 14-day isolation was imposed.
A subsequent provincial health public announcement of an optimistic tone indicated no need to worry, the virus was contained. This did little to lessen anxiety, for shortly thereafter another positive virus case was discovered, linked to the first traveller.
Go directly to jail. Pass ‘Go’. Do not collect $200. Another 14-day isolation was imposed. Not sure who is picking up the tab but maybe, just maybe, it could be the provincial treasury for out-of-province travellers forced into isolation within the province.
This same scenario has the potential to exist through the only other way to enter the province, which is by sea through Port aux Basques.
Travellers wishing to enter Newfoundland have to pass through similar checks and balances. However, a potential for travel-related virus importation does exist similar to airport entry.
At the moment the provincial enforcement teams are present at Port aux Basques. These individuals carry out their operations with all the due diligence possible as mandated by the province. Job done, and done well!
So if the checks are in place it must be the balance that needs to be examined.
For example, there is no mandatory testing. There are individuals coming off the vessels that have not met provincial requirements for entry. Actually, there are still individuals entering without any paper work at all.
Once ashore these same travellers are given an opportunity to call what resembles a 1-800 HELP line with salaried provincial employees offering the ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ – thumbs up or thumbs down Roman forum justice.
For the thumbs down its back to the ferry, or some other measure at possibly the province’s expense. Whatever the case the system is flawed.
Once the vessel docks entry is divided between commercial and non-commercial traffic. All non-commercial passengers are screened, while all commercial traffic is given a free pass.
Regarding commercial traffic, the range can be very broad from the tractor-trailer unit carrying essential food supplies to the individual van transporting computer parts. No screening. No testing.
All checks on non-commercial traffic happens at the point of entry. Unfortunately, the point of entry is 96 miles across a body of water known as the Cabot Strait.
Federal requirements dictate that no one can be refused entry to the terminal to travel to Newfoundland. Thus the balance is in favour of the traveller. The balance is not in protecting the health and safety of residents of the province.
Provincial and federal representatives need to lobby for change.
It is not enough to take a temperature at an airport in Toronto, or incur the expense of a screening program attempting to catch the fox in the hen house. These checks need to be carried out long before any points of entry to Newfoundland and Labrador.To avoid the potential for new cases in numbers unmanageable by the health care system we have to do more.
John Spencer, Mayor
Channel-Port aux Basques