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Will Canada's relaxed travel rules lead to a COVID-19 spike? Dr. Bonnie Henry weighs in

B.C is preparing for a possible surge of influenza infections at the same time that the virus strikes this fall.
Bonnie Henry - March 11, 2021
Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry addressed questions about the COVID-19 virus and respiratory illness season in B.C. on Sept. 28, 2022. File photo.

Canada has announced that it will drop the travel vaccine requirement and the mask mandate — but not everyone is thrilled about the decision. 

While numerous people celebrated the government's choice to end the travel health order, others have expressed concern that Canada could consequently see a surge in coronavirus cases. 

In a press conference Wednesday (Sept. 28), B.C.'s top doctor was asked if she believes the relaxed rules will result in an imminent spike in COVID-19 cases; B.C is already preparing for a possible surge of influenza infections at the same time that the virus strikes this fall.

But Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters that we are "in a different place right now globally" and people know a great deal more about the virus and its potential impacts. 

Before there was widespread vaccination in Canada, international travellers could spread the virus more easily and there was a greater risk of severe illness.

"We don't need to have the same level of broad restriction," she explained. "So I think it is a timing thing that we're at a place now with the risk to the population here of somebody coming in with COVID is different."

Since there is such a high rate of vaccination, Canada doesn't have the same "level of risk and susceptibility and vulnerability" that was widespread in previous years. Further, Omicron has also been the dominant variant for several months now and health officials don't expect another one to emerge this fall. 

Henry: 'Timing is right' to 'get back to more normal activities'

"So I think the timing is right. We've been having cruise ships, for example, [that] have come in and out of Victoria. We've managed that," added Henry. "And we have the tools now to be able to get back to more normal activities."

Health officials will continue to monitor the progression of the virus following the relaxed travel rules and heading into the respiratory season, however. 

This is expected to be the first season the flu has had a significant comeback since pandemic restrictions dampened the spread of it and other respiratory illnesses over the past two years. 

Henry added that COVID-19 is expected to surge around November through January, and she expects the flu may peak early this year around the same time, based on the experiences of Australia and New Zealand.

Canada will no longer require travellers to show proof of coronavirus vaccination upon entry to the country or enter their information into the ArriveCAN app. The new rules come into effect on Oct. 1.

With files from the Canadian Press