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Four November flights to Winnipeg from Alberta carried symptomatic passengers who later tested positive for COVID-19. Despite this knowledge, Manitoba still refuses to reinstate the self-isolation rule for travel within western provinces.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin has opposed reinstating the requirement, which was lifted in June. He has argued it wouldn’t make sense, since Manitoba’s case numbers are higher than its western peers.

However, with daily case counts now soaring in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, that argument is no longer valid.

Alberta has surpassed Manitoba for the highest seven-day case count per capita in Canada, at 219 per 100,000 people (compared to Manitoba’s 215). The daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta has been climbing steadily since early October. The province hit a record 1,731 on Nov. 28.

B.C. has also logged a surge in recent weeks, climbing from about 100 new cases a day in mid-October to a record 911 on Nov. 27.

Saskatchewan is reporting nearly as many new daily cases as Manitoba, including 351 Sunday.

Meanwhile, people who travel to and from those provinces are not required to self-isolate for 14 days when entering Manitoba (as they must do when travelling from eastern provinces, with the exception of northwestern Ontario).

Manitoba lifted the western travel self-isolation requirement June 21, as part of the Pallister government’s "safe" reopening plan. Less than two weeks later (July 2), a symptomatic traveller (who later tested positive) arrived in Winnipeg on a WestJet flight from Calgary. The public wasn’t notified until July 14.

There were three more flights from western provinces in July and August carrying symptomatic passengers to Manitoba, who later tested positive for COVID-19. In all cases, the public wasn’t notified until days later.

Flight risks

November flights to and within Manitoba with possible COVID-19 exposures:

Nov. 21: Air Canada flight AC271 from Toronto to Winnipeg

Nov. 21: WestJet flight WS535 from Toronto to Winnipeg

November flights to and within Manitoba with possible COVID-19 exposures:

Nov. 21: Air Canada flight AC271 from Toronto to Winnipeg

Nov. 21: WestJet flight WS535 from Toronto to Winnipeg

Nov. 18: WestJet flight WS204 from Edmonton to Winnipeg

Nov. 15: Air Canada flight ACH340 from Calgary to Winnipeg

Nov. 14: Flair flight F186 from Toronto to Winnipeg

Nov. 11: Calm Air flight M0112 from Winnipeg to Thompson

Nov. 9: WestJet flight 406 from Calgary to Winnipeg

Nov. 7: Air Canada flight AC271 from Toronto to Winnipeg

Nov. 6: Perimeter flight from Thompson to Tadoule Lake, with stopover in Lac Brochet

Nov. 4: Perimeter charter flight from St. Theresa Point to Winnipeg

Nov. 4: Perimeter flight 1560 from Winnipeg to St. Theresa Point

Nov. 2: WestJet flight WS526 from Calgary to Winnipeg

Nov. 1: Flair flight F8186 from Toronto to Winnipeg

Source: Government of Manitoba

Three weeks after Manitoba lifted the western travel self-isolation requirement, case numbers began to climb: from less than 10 a week in May and June to more than 100 by the first week of August. Many factors likely contributed to that increase, but the correlation between higher caseloads and ending travel restrictions can’t be ignored.

Despite renewed calls over the summer to reinstate the self-isolation rule, the Pallister government has stubbornly refused. Meanwhile, flights with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to enter Manitoba from western provinces.

On Sept. 27, a flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg carried a symptomatic passenger who later tested positive. There were two more such cases in October, from Edmonton to Winnipeg.

The most recent cases were direct flights from Calgary to Winnipeg, Nov. 2, 9 and 15, and one from Edmonton Nov. 18.

On Monday, five flights from western provinces landed in Winnipeg; another five are scheduled for Tuesday. None of the passengers disembarking are required to self-isolate.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Every time someone travels interprovincially, whether by land or air, there’s a risk they’re carrying the virus with them.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Every time someone travels interprovincially, whether by land or air, there’s a risk they’re carrying the virus with them.

With record levels of SARS-CoV-2 now circulating in most provinces (with the exception of the Atlantic provinces, where strict travel restrictions were enacted early in the pandemic), it doesn’t matter what the relative case count is between jurisdictions.

Every time someone travels interprovincially, whether by land or air, there’s a risk they’re carrying the virus with them. Asymptomatic travellers may be spreading it unwittingly, because they don’t have to self-isolate.

Restricting travel between provinces should be no different than controlling contacts between households. If Manitobans are being told to stay home except for essential reasons (and can be fined for socializing between households), the same principle should apply to all interprovincial travel.

If Manitobans are being told to stay home except for essential reasons, the same principle should apply to all interprovincial travel.

There’s no question more people will travel between Manitoba and the western provinces if they know they don’t have to self-isolate, especially over the holidays.

The temptation to visit family and friends over the Christmas break could fuel a major outbreak in January.

Manitoba hospitals are already on the brink of collapse, health-care workers are putting themselves and their families at risk every day, and the daily COVID-19 death count is in the double digits.

That the province is still allowing unrestricted travel with western provinces under its "circuit-breaker" shutdown is bewildering.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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