Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Ottawa initially proposed tightening COVID-19 rules last November
The Canadian government is forcing health-and-safety travellers to add extra layers of security screening to their passports.
Passports and travel documents also need to carry the visitor’s health data, such as weight and height.
Doctors say these requirements do not take into account the impact on travellers’ health, putting them at risk of false positives and preventing them from going to destinations where medical care is needed.
Canada is home to medical facilities such as the Cochrane Veterans’ Health Research Centre, which treats veterans exposed to dangerous combat or environmental chemicals, and the University of Ottawa, where researchers are also investigating asbestos.
But there are some fundamental problems with the new procedure, say experts.
‘Physicals are coming’
Canada’s Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor made the announcement alongside the Canadian Association of International Medical Consular Officers, after the new rules were introduced last Tuesday.
“As with our other passports, we encourage individuals to travel with an updated health information and health history, in order to reduce instances of adverse events and losses on entering Canada,” she said in a statement.
Health-and-safety travellers are required to add a physical exam and allergy testing in their passports
Coordinating medical screening
This new process involves additional checks on “health-and-safety travellers”, specifically those who have been called to work in remote or border regions, or who have spent more than 90 days abroad.
Experts have voiced their concern that the new regulations mean that only healthy travellers will be affected, since health data is not taken into account on the passport.
In 2017, Canada introduced a similar rule for visitors to areas in its territorial waters, but experts say the new rules are more thorough and will lead to more delays, and large waiting periods.
Many states provide health screening to visitors travelling across their borders. In 2017, that included more than 90 states.
Canada’s border crossings require airlines to ensure that medications and medical equipment are in storage at the airport before passengers depart. But the rules are not specific to the arrival of travellers in Canada.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Can’t use the application form? You can email details of your vaccinations to the Consular Affairs Bureau
Many countries including Canada, but not the US, ask for travelers’ medical insurance records when they enter the country.
Doctors say those records can be critical in finding people who have been travelling with an affected illness, but without their health records, they will have to apply for individual health cards and then apply again for visas to enter Canada.
“It requires individuals to spend another month on a plane travelling to Canada, without any medical records or keeping their immunisations up to date,” says Prof Vanessa Heseltine, an expert in environmental health.
“It will take people a month longer to get back to their favourite vacation destination that they can’t access.”
Tracking those who have visited a risky region
Last year, the Department of National Defence released a list of vulnerable regions across Canada.
Medical staff working in Canada’s territorial and northern territories have been put at risk by exposure to asbestos and toxins, some of which have been linked to cancer and birth defects.
But most of the areas on the list are in remote regions.
Researchers at the University of Ottawa say travel across a border can still have significant repercussions for people affected by emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Similar analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine said that emissions from power plants can cause cancer, heart disease and birth defects.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Health experts say the passport checks do not take into account the impact on travellers’ health
Asbestos patients, in particular, argue that these screenings create unnecessary bureaucracy.
“The implementation of this new documentation needs to be based on sound epidemiology – thus taking into account the practical toll of illness – rather than on increasing operating costs for healthcare facilities and first responders on the front lines,” the research’s authors said.
Regardless of whether the new measure is a positive move for health, some experts say it will prove costly, time-consuming and invasive.