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Green and Spiegel - An Immigration Law Firm
Jan 30, 2020

Balancing international migration with public health – Latest updates on the Coronavirus

Kelly Goldthorpe

Going Viral 

The 2019-nCoV is a new coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China. The source of the virus is unknown but symptoms of those who have contracted the virus could include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Mild to severe illness has been reported in confirmed cases. At this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed that the public health risk associated with this virus is low for Canada. They continue to actively monitor the situation and work with the World Health Organization and other international partners to gather information.

Although the public health risks are assessed as being low for Canada, some airlines are looking into cancelling routes into China and governments and businesses are issuing travel warnings or prohibiting travel to the Wuhan region. As well, airports are putting in place measures to detect infection by relying on passengers to self-identify if they’ve recently travelled to the Wuhan region or if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Airlines are beginning to cancel flights to and from China. It must be noted that there are currently no direct flights into Canada from Wuhan. But in order to monitor and assess travellers entering Canada at Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver airports, travellers are advised that those who have been to Wuhan must inform a Border Services Officer if they were in the Wuhan region of China within the past 2 weeks or if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. They will be referred to a border officer for further assessment and may be referred to a hospital for testing if they are ill. Those without any symptoms are provided an information sheet with instructions on who to contact if they develop signs or symptoms of the coronavirus.

Global Affairs Canada says that there is a plane ready to fly Canadians out of Wuhan province in China once co-operation from China has been secured. The Minister indicated that every Canadian that has reached out for consular assistance will receive it.

International travel is omnipresent, it is a fact of modern society. In 2019, there were roughly 1.5 billion international trips taken around the world. With 1.5 billion people on the move, it is impossible to isolate and contain an outbreak. While there is a need to control the movement of temporary residents as a mechanism to protect the health, safety and security of Canada, migration policies are also concerned with heightened security, and global health issues.

The benefits of allowing people into the country (e.g., economic, family reunification, and tourism) need to be weighed against the risks presented by those seeking to enter the country (e.g., threats to the health, safety, and security of Canadian residents). Migration policies are concerned with heightened security and global health issues which requires a need to control who enters the country. The Canada Border Services Agency is responsible for facilitating the flow of travellers into and out of Canada.

Public health concerns affect immigration practices and policies. During the 2009 H1N1 season, IRCC issued a revised policy to take precautionary steps to avoid illnesses. Citizenship judges were advised to refrain from shaking hands with citizenship applicants and their guests. They were to extend best wishes, regards and congratulations without shaking hands.

Some visitors are already required to undergo upfront medical exams in order to apply for visas or work authorization. People who have lived in one or more specific countries (i.e. Brazil, China, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Pakistan, etc.) for more than 6 months continuously within the last year require upfront medicals if they intend to stay in Canada for longer than 6 months. As well, those who plan on working in a job in which public health must be protected such as workers in the health sciences field, clinical laboratory workers, patient attendants in nursing homes, medical students attending a university, teachers in primary or secondary school, or similar jobs also require medical exams.

Permanent resident applicants must also do immigration medicals before they are granted permanent residence status. This is to ensure that they are not medically inadmissible to Canada. Medically inadmissible people are those who could be considered a danger to public health, danger to public safety or whose medical condition might cause excessive demand on health or social services.

While those measures may not be aimed directly at the current coronavirus outbreak, they demonstrate that public health is a factor in international migration and assessed accordingly.

The situation is constantly changing and it is too early to predict how severe or contagious the virus is. In the meantime, travellers are reminded to exercise precaution and to wash their hands often, avoid contact with people who are sick, practice proper sneezing and coughing etiquette. As well, avoid travel to affected areas and large public gatherings.

Canada, having experience in dealing with the aftermath of SARS in 2003 is prepared to handle the situation and has put in place airport screening, better channels of communication between health agencies and hospital isolation units. Until Public Health officials indicate otherwise, it is wise to be alert and take precaution but too early to panic.  

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