insight & evidence

COVID-19: Protecting Canada’s Border



Updated July 14, 2020

COVID-19 continues to pose a social and economic challenge at our border. In Protecting Canada’s Border Against Introduction Of Covid-19 Peter Nicholson and Jeff Larsen have partnered with Dr. Vivek Goel to propose a procedure to manage international entry to Canada in a way that minimizes the risk of introducing COVID-19 infection. 

Professor Vivek Goel is Special Advisor to the President and Provost at the University of Toronto and a Professor in the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health; in previous positions at U of T, he has been Vice-President and Provost, and Vice-President Research, Innovation and Strategic Initiatives.  Professor Goel has a medical degree from McGill University and an MSc in Community Health from U of T and an MS in Biostatistics from Harvard University School of Public Health. He served as founding President and CEO of Public Health Ontario from 2008 until 2014 and serves on the boards of the Vector Institute, TRIUMF (Vice-Chair) and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (Vice-Chair). He is a member of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, the Governing Council for CanCOVID, the national research platform for COVID-19 research

The following is a short excerpt from the paper – please download Protecting Canada’s Border Against Introduction Of Covid-19 to read the full proposed procedure.


This paper proposes a procedure to manage international entry to Canada in a way that minimizes the risk of introducing COVID-19 infection and thus permits the nation’s economic and social activity to be safely restored to the greatest feasible extent. If required, the procedure could also be applied in respect of travel across provincial borders. The paper concludes with a summary of the argument and an Appendix outlining the variety of entry restrictions in an illustrative sample of 10 countries plus the European Union.

The Challenge

Management of the COVID pandemic can be likened to management of a forest fire—first you control the blaze; reduce it to a smolder; and then focus on spotting and snuffing out any sparks the moment they appear. In the COVID-19 context, lock-down is needed to get the raging infection under control. Restrictions then reduce the cases to the point where “community transmission” has essentially been eliminated. Then strategically-targeted testing enables any new cases to be quickly spotted, after which contact tracing and follow-up are employed to ensure that the new infections are ring-fenced before they can re-ignite community spread.

As the number of new infections in Canada declines toward zero, the time is approaching when community transmission of the virus within our borders will have been essentially eliminated.[2] In principle this achievement could permit removal of all COVID-related restrictions on economic and social activity inside Canada, provided there was assurance that the virus could not be reintroduced by infectious travellers entering from abroad. Schools could re-open normally in September; hundreds of thousands of jobs could return; public finances could begin to stabilize; optimism could be re-kindled. When it comes to border entry policy in the COVID era, the stakes could not be higher.

At the same time, Canada cannot remain effectively closed to the rest of the world for at least the year, or possibly much longer, before a vaccine arrives and has been widely administered.[3]

[2] Several provinces, including each of the Atlantic Provinces, have already eliminated community transmission and the others have seen the incidence of new infections either at a low level or on a gradual declining trend.

[3] There is guarded optimism that a safe and effective vaccine could emerge by early 2021 as a result of worldwide efforts. But this is far from certain and even after a vaccine has been proven in trials, its manufacture and sufficient global and national distribution may take an additional year or more. In short, Canada should be prepared to be living with COVID-19 for what could be another 2-3 years.


About the author

Policy Wonks

The Policy Wonks are Dr. Peter Nicholson, Jeff Larsen, and Bernie Miller.


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  • Another detailed and thought-out piece here. I think you’ve addressed a lot of the challenges with opening up and have been realistic given the high number of entry points Canada has by comparison with smaller and island countries that are able to be more-selective in their policies. I think the federal government has a lot more authority and weight to make some of these recommendations in comparison to the provinces, who are in a bit more uncharted territory.

    My question is what to do about enforcement (perhaps a future blog post for the two of you tackle?). Has anybody really had any success in charging people defying isolation mechanisms? How heavy handed will we need to be and how heavy handed CAN we be?

    On a different note, what is the feasibility of Canada establishing its own entrance criteria for countries we welcome into our borders as we open up? Setting this based on infection rates would need to be paired with proof of testing rates, but perhaps we could also incorporate state or national regulations (for instance, does the country of origin limit group sizes, mandate masks, etc). Is there any legal method of doing this for the US at the state level (i.e. allowing residents of specific states to enter if infection rates in that state have declined).

  • SONA Nanotech has a point of care lateral flow antigen based test that would be ideal for this initiative. 96.666%Sensitivity and specificity to the COVD-19 virus and validated by MRI Global.

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