Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen on the screen of a broadcast camera as he speaks during his daily press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, outside his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, April 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Trudeau says too early to discuss ‘immunity passports’ for people recovered from COVID

Trudeau said recovery plans do not hinge on people being immune to catching COVID-19 twice

It’s premature to talk about “immunity passports” for Canadians who have been infected with COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday, because the science is unclear about whether those who have recovered from the virus are protected from catching it again.

As provinces begin opening up their economies from COVID-19 lockdowns, Trudeau said none of those recovery plans hinge on people being immune to catching COVID-19 twice.

Trudeau said he spoke to premiers Friday and they discussed a basic framework that provinces will use as they reopen businesses, schools and other institutions. The focus, he said, is on preventing the spread of the virus through physical distancing and personal protective equipment.

“It is very clear that the science is not decided on whether or not having had COVID once prevents you from having it again,” he told reporters. ”It’s something we need to get clearer answers to and until we get those clearer answers, we need to err on the side of more caution.”

Trudeau was responding to a recent World Health Organization brief stating there is no evidence that people who have recovered from the virus have antibodies that protect them from getting infected again.

The WHO issued the brief after some countries announced the possibility of providing so-called “immunity passports” or “risk-free certificates” to citizens who have already been infected.

But on Saturday, the international body walked that back some.

“We expect that most people who are infected with COVID-19 will develop an antibody response that will provide some level of protection,” the organization wrote on Twitter. “What we don’t yet know is the level of protection or how long it will last.”

The WHO said scientists around the world are working to answer that key question.

In Canada, the provinces have varying approaches to relaxing public health orders that were put in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, for instance, continue to urge citizens to stay home as much as possible, while New Brunswick announced Friday low-risk outdoor activities such as golf, hunting and fishing were permitted to resume.

Ontario and Quebec announced they would present their recovery plans in the coming week, with Quebec Premier Francois Legault saying his government would detail separate plans for schools and then for businesses.

Legault and the province’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, have been pushing the idea of “herd immunity” as an approach to re-opening schools. That strategy involves exposing a large proportion of Quebecers to the novel coronavirus in a measured, gradual way, to help them develop a natural immunity.

That theory follows the logic of a vaccination program. When people receive a vaccine, they are given a weakened form of the virus, allowing their immune system to build antibodies to kill it.

“The idea is to go very gradually so that people who are less at risk can develop antibodies to be able to become immune,” Legault told reporters earlier in the week.

But Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, warned against that approach Saturday. She said the federal government has put in place an immunity task force that will investigate how people’s immune systems are responding to COVID-19.

She said that since many Canadians have followed physical distancing orders, the percentage of the immunized population is “quite low.” And despite evidence that the virus is particularly dangerous to older people and those with underlying health conditions, younger people are still at risk.

“So the idea of generating natural immunity is actually not something that I think should be undertaken,” she said. “I personally think that as medical officers, we would be extremely cautious about that kind of approach.”

The case count in Canada topped 45,000 on Saturday. The global death toll, meanwhile, climbed above 200,000.

READ MORE: Canada’s top doctor says measures ‘starting to pay off’, even as COVID-19 deaths near 2,500

Many of the deaths in Canada have been people in seniors’ homes and long-term care facilities, which have struggled to manage outbreaks among residents and staff.

Five of the six deaths connected to COVID-19 that were reported Saturday in Nova Scotia, for example, occurred at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax Regional Municipality. There are 10 licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors’ facilities in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 191 residents and 90 staff.

The situation is far worse in Quebec, where 65 per cent of the province’s 1,446 COVID deaths have occurred at long-term care facilities, many of which are severely understaffed. Another 15 per cent of the province’s death total comes from senior homes.

In Ontario, frontline workers in facilities such as long-term care homes, will receive a raise of $4 per hour for the next four months, Premier Doug Ford announced Saturday.

Aside from the long-term care homes, the premier said the bonus will be available for workers in seniors’ residences, emergency shelters, supportive housing, social services congregate care settings, corrections institutions and youth justice facilities, home and community care providers and some staff in hospitals.

The premier made the announcement as dozens of protesters took to the provincial legislature to defy physical distancing measures set by the province.

“It just burns me up,” said Ford, who called the protesters “reckless” and “selfish.”

“We have health-care people working tirelessly, but then we have a bunch of yahoos sitting there protesting as they’re breaking the law and putting workers in jeopardy.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s COVID-19 death toll reaches 100; 95 new cases with nearly half from prison outbreak

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CanadaCoronavirusJustin Trudeau

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Haitian foster children arrive in Nelson after months-long lobbying effort

Marie-Paule Brisson and Sebastien De Marre have parented girls age 12 and 8 since they were babies

Nelson hospice starts Walk and Talk group in Lakeside Park

The Walk and Talk Grief Group is offered free to anyone grieving the death of a loved one

From baseball stars to forest fires: Southeast Fire Centre water bomber has an interesting past

Tanker 489 is stationed in Castlegar this year, but in the 1960s it belonged to the L.A. Dodgers.

RDCK to implement new emergency alert notification system

System also includes sends alerts for water advisories

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Lower Mainland YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Most Read