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May 26, 2020

Looking Back at Past Pandemics is Both Sobering and Inspiring & What it Teaches Us About COVID-19 Canadian Immigration Port of Entry Measures

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

Looking at past pandemics in the last three hundred years is both sobering and inspiring, and the past can as always, give us insight into the future. Looking back is useful in health and safety planning as well as Canadian immigration legal and policy development. By looking at the duration of past pandemics and epidemics, how they were resolved, the spread, the toll on human life and the recency are all fascinating pieces of the puzzle looking forward more relevant and significant than others. A foremost consideration, no doubt, is our handling of all persons entering Canada, including Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents and foreign nationals. So, let’s take a quick look at an awful list of past pandemics and epidemics.[1]  In brief, 

  1. The Great Plague of Marseille from 1720-1723 saw up to 30% of Marseille’s population perish. This plague reportedly spread through fleas on plague-infected rodents, and as many as 100,000 people died.
  2. The Russian Plague: 1770-1772, which was a form of theBubonic plague mainly spread by infected fleas from small animals.[2] It also resulted in as many as 100,000 deaths. 
  3. The Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic: 1793 was carried and transmitted by mosquitoes, and more than 5000 people died by the time the mosquitos died out in the winter. 
  4. The Flu pandemic: 1889-1890 killed an estimated one million people originating in Russia. The virus spread with amazing efficiency despite the absence of air travel. There is speculation this was a bovine coronavirus.[3] 
  5. The American polio epidemic: 1916 resulted in the loss of thousands of lives until the development of a vaccine in 1954 – thirty-eight years later. The epidemic began in New York City. Worldwide vaccination initiatives have significantly reduced the impact of the disease bit some 104 years later; It still exists.
  6. Spanish Flu: 1918-1920 – I have written about this pandemic, the one most oft compared to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020.An estimated 100 million people died and a half billion people were infected. 
  7. Asian Flu: 1957-1958 – This disease is not referenced as frequently as the Spanish Flu, but the avian flu claimed over one million people in the late fifties, including 116,000 deaths occurring in the United States.
  8. AIDS pandemic and epidemic: 1981-present day –HIV/AIDS has killed over 35 million people, and nearly thirty years later, there is no vaccine. Still, effective treatment was developed in the nineties, and reportedly, a few people have now been cured.
  9. H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic: 2009-2010 – Incredibly in just one year, the virus infected as many as 1.4 billion people across the globe and killed between estimates of 151,700 and 575,400 people, according to the Centre for Disease Control.
  10. West African Ebola epidemic: 2014-2016 – West Africa experienced between 2014 and 2016 28,600 reported cases and 11,325 deaths. The virus may have originated in bats, and there is no cure. 

I also should mention the most recent epidemic, the Zika Virus, that began in 2015, which persists today. The Zika virus is usually spread through mosquitoes, and it can also be sexually transmitted in humans. It seems to only affect fetuses in the womb and thrives in warm climates. Its scope and impact are still evolving. Nevertheless, there are many takeaways from this very brief review.

One, we see an increasing frequency of pandemics—three in the past decade or so. Two, many of these pandemics lasted for years, not months and saw second and in some cases third waves. Become complacent or move too quickly to resume the life that was, the consequences can be devastating. Three, some pandemics, epidemics have persisted for decades without a vaccine. Four, a treatment like for HIV/AIDS was developed, although a vaccine has remained elusive. Four, a number of these epidemics died out while others persisted and became chronic conditions in some cases but part of the new world order. One cannot help but look at the pictures below and be sobered by the devastation but inspired by how the world found a way to move forward.      

And is that not the most significant takeaway of them all? That the world has been here before, found a way, a new way no doubt, but persevered. 

The early reports on the current pandemic as it relates to a vaccine have been incredible and incredibly encouraging. The technology of 2020 is unrivalled and potentially the magic elixir. Further still, the world is thoroughly engrossed, fully focused and fully committed to eradicating the Coronavirus/COVID19 epidemic. Yet the weeks stretch into months, and so we continue to adjust. 

But changes and precautions are necessary both in the short and long term, and so too that applies to the world of Canadian immigration law. We should look and learn from the past. Most critically, we cannot assume a quick return to what was and in fact, the world may be changed forever. So too must the world of Canadian immigration law and processing evolve.

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) spoke to immigration being essential to our country, and this will not change.[4]  It is equally encouraging though to see steps being taken at the Port of Entry including what was reinforced through IRCC communication with colleagues at the Canadian Bar Association:    

  1. Foreign nationals must be truthful when answering any questions presented in the application or by an officer, and this should relate to COVID-19.
  2. The foreign national will need to show that they are coming for an essential (non-discretionary) purpose and have their health checked by airline officials before boarding their flight to confirm that they do not have symptoms of COVID-19. What is essential is being challenged and likely will require legal clarity through the courts.
  3. Any conditions and circumstances experienced concerning COVID-19 must be disclosed to airline officials, and anyone showing symptoms will not be allowed to board a flight. 
  4. Once the foreign national arrives in Canada, any information such as previously being tested for COVID-19, having experienced symptoms, having had the disease, and have been in close physical contact with anyone infected in the past two weeks must be disclosed to the CBSA as they will make the final determination on entry into Canada. This is my view should be expanded to include any exposure in the last few months given the late onset of COVID-19 related symptoms, particularly in children some five to six weeks later.    
  5. The traveller’s health will be assessed by a border services officer, and the traveller must quarantine for 14 days after entering Canada. This is mandatory for all travellers, and there are significant penalties for anyone who does not follow this order, including the possibility of being issued a removal order.
  6. The border services officer will ask to see the traveller’s passport or travel documents, proof of how they meet the travel exemption and why their travel is non-discretionary, their quarantine plan, and have the traveller answer a few questions. 
  7. The traveller must prepare a plan for how they will quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Canada and obtain medical care if they become sick. While in quarantine, the foreign national will be unable to leave their residence for any purpose. 
  8. If the foreign national does not have a plan for their quarantine, including how they will buy groceries and access other essential services, they must delay their travel until they have a plan.

Failure to abide by these measures will result in a refusal to enter Canada or enforcement action once in Canada. And the above are all essential steps, but to ensure we can augment the flow and return to the numbers of new permanent residents, workers, students, and even visitors we require in Canada, rapid and reliable medical screening must be available at the port of entries. We also are at a point in new cases and resources where adequate tracing can be administered. If we learned anything from the past, we will emerge. Still, it will take time and the steps we take today to ensure the safety of all within Canada and the essential flow of permanent and temporary migrants that persisted throughout history, despite these massive challenges to the health of the world, we must plan for a new reality not for months and perhaps not even years but permanently. 

Technology affords us a tool not available during those horrific pandemics and epidemics from years ago. But looking back does provide a measure of comfort if only to know lessons are waiting for us, including that the flow of immigration found a way to continue to be the lifeblood of our country and so we best not overlook those lessons or worse yet forget now or when this is over.            

Thank you for reading. As always, please stay safe.