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Stanford, Oxford, and Memorial University study cautions against lifting Newfoundland's travel restrictions to combat COVID-19

Dr. Proton Rahman, a clinical scientist with Eastern Health and professor of medicine at Memorial University, speaks Monday at the daily COVID-19 briefing. SCREEN GRAB
Dr. Proton Rahman - FILE

A study conducted by researchers from Oxford University, Stanford University and Memorial University examining Newfoundland and Labrador’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic finds international travel bans are the best measure for preventing future outbreaks.

The study, published on Monday, was conducted by Dr. Proton Rahman of Memorial, Dr. Kevin Linka and Dr. Ellen Kuhl of Stanford, and Dr. Alain Goriely of Oxford.

The study examines how Newfoundland and Labrador’s response to the pandemic can be used as a model to understand how outbreaks of the coronavirus can be quickly contained.

The study speaks highly of the provincial government’s response to the initial outbreak of the pandemic.

“The first reported case of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador was on March 14, 2020 followed by a rapid escalation in the number of cases caused by a super-spreader event at a funeral home,” reads the study.

“Rapid and well co-ordinated implementation of provincial public health measures resulted in excellent viral epidemic control of the first wave and the province has not had a documented case of community transmission since mid-April 2020.”

The study acknowledges the increased risk of the disease faced by the population of the province.

“The demographics of its population, the highest rates of obesity and overweight, metabolic disease, and cancer nationally, and an unhealthy lifestyle with the highest rate of cigarette smoking among all provinces set Newfoundland and Labrador apart from the rest of Canada,” reads the study.

“These factors are critical when developing policies for the management of COVID-19.”

The study finds that easing travel restrictions to and from countries outside of Canada is a dangerous way to manage reopening of the province.

“Our results suggest that relaxing travel restrictions entirely is possible, but would require strict quarantine conditions. Voluntary quarantine, even at an overall rate of 95 per cent, is not enough to entirely prevent future outbreaks,” reads the study.

“A solution to reduce the quarantine time is to test, trace and isolate. Without these policies, even regions that have successfully managed the COVID-19 pandemic to date are at risk of seeing a new epidemic outbreak within only a few weeks.”

The study says the government needs to be cautious with its reopening to prevent a quickly escalating outbreak of the disease.

“Relaxing travel restriction is a highly contentious political decision. However, from an outbreak dynamics perspective, the picture is quite clear: without proper control, an influx of infected travellers can easily become the seed for a new exponential outbreak,” reads the study.

“In the early phases of exponential growth, the new case numbers may appear low and manageable, but when unaddressed, the case numbers will begin to grow at an alarming rate. At this point, it becomes impossible to manage a new outbreak with soft measures alone.”


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