Experience and evidence with COVID‑19 transmission and spread across jurisdictions related to changes in border controls

Question: what is the emerging evidence and experience across jurisdictions related to implementing changes in border controls to reduce risk of transmission and spread? For all ports of entry (air, land, water) which approaches were taken to change border control and what were the considerations?

Executive Summary

The global spread of COVID‑19 and its variants of concern (VOCs) has led many countries to implement border controls. This report explores the impacts, both intended and unintended, of border control measures including disease spread, wait times at the border, and frequency of travel as well as considerations in implementing such measures. It builds on the Priority strategies to optimize testing and quarantine at Canada’s border report, by focusing on ‘real-world’ evidence related to border control measures, and measures being used in other countries. We cross cross-referenced our included papers with that report’s reference list to find relevant information and avoid duplicating efforts.

Most papers we found did not distinguish between the type of port of entry (air, land, sea). The border controls typically involved testing (PCR and antigen) before and/or after travel, with quarantine required in some but not all cases. Many countries have determined lists of safe and less safe countries based on the epidemiological situation in those countries. At the time of writing, there is very little evidence or policy that distinguishes partially and fully vaccinated travellers.

Considerations for policy

  • Border policy should consider the epidemiological situation in the country of origin, the epidemiological situation in Canada, vaccination or previous infection status, type of test (PCR and antigen), and a likely increase in passengers over time.
  • Testing and quarantine may not provide full protection against limiting the spread of COVID‑19 across borders given that our testing methods may not identify all positive cases and the challenges of ensuring quarantine is maintained (unless it is implemented with a supervised and enforced approach).
  • The Centre for Disease Control and Preventions guidance on developing a framework for assessing and managing individual-risk level for COVID‑19 exposure in mobile populations may be tailored to the Canadian context. This framework provides a range of restrictive approaches to assess individual-level risk of COVID‑19 exposure of mobile populations within and across borders .

The conclusions of this paper are limited due to the following:

  • The search strategy focused primarily on variations around the term “border” and the literature that we identified was mostly related to air travel. Therefore, future scans should incorporate targeted searches for land and seaports to identify more information.
  • We had rapid timeframe (1 week) to complete the search and to write this report, which means that we may have missed relevant information.
  • Although we did not find information about the impact of border controls on wait times, this may be attributed to the current situation of limited travel.
  • Published: July 15, 2021

With funding from the Government of Canada

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