Leading doctor in the Netherlands says travel ban along with other measures helped stem the spread of COVID-19

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Newfoundland and Labrador’s top doctor says she didn’t ask for specific models before ordering travel limits in the province because the group doing this work was too new at the time.Testifying before the Supreme Court on Friday in a court challenge to the ban, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said her public health team had consulted with epidemiologists, healthcare advocacy groups and an analysis of the general trajectory of contagion.

“The modeling that would have been necessary for the travel ban had not been worked out at that time,” Fitzgerald told the St. John’s courtroom.

As Newfoundland and Labrador’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Fitzgerald signed the Special Measures Order to enter the province as a measure against COVID-19.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Halifax resident Kim Taylor, who was refused entry to the province after the death of her mother, allege the restrictions violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and fall outside the scope of under the jurisdiction of the province.

Taylor was later allowed into the province, but she said the decision came too late to allow her to cry and comfort her father.

She’s not asking for damages in the May claim, but says she wants to save others from going through the same experience.

The province’s top public health official on Friday asked questions under oath about the controversial ban she issued under the province’s state of public health emergency.

Lawyer Rosallen Sullivan, representing the civil liberties group, explained to Fitzgerald the timing of the ban decision and the presence of the virus in the province at the time.

Lawyers for the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Justice Kim Taylor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association were in court Tuesday to begin hearings in a court challenge to the travel ban of the COVID-19 in the province. (CBC)

On April 26, three days before Fitzgerald announced the ban, 258 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the province, of which 219 were recovered, the court heard.

Since the beginning of May, nine more cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the province.

Fitzgerald was asked about concerns expressed in the weeks leading up to the ban about alleged violations of public health orders, such as people arriving in the province and not self-isolating for the required 14 days.

Sullivan called these complaints of non-compliance “rumors” and asked Fitzgerald if any of the complaints were related to a positive case of COVID-19.

“I’m not aware of any connection,” Fitzgerald said. “We haven’t had that level of analysis on this. ”

Sullivan also asked about a Fitzgerald affidavit that cited a study saying that travel restrictions had “only a modest effect unless paired with public health interventions” and behavior changes.

Fitzgerald said all interventions are effective when applied together, and she did not specifically seek advice on the effectiveness of the ban per se compared to other measures such as physical distancing and hand washing.

The court heard that as of August 3, more than 13,500 exemptions from the ban had been granted. That number includes exemptions for groups of people, which means the actual number of people entering the province is likely higher.

On Friday, the province announced the first case of COVID-19 detected in a person who had obtained an exemption from the travel order, a case mentioned by Fitzgerald while on the stand.

She testified that the nine cases reported in the province since the ban took effect were detected because people reported their symptoms or were tested by their employer.

Dr Proton Rahman said the infection rate could have been 20 times higher without the travel ban, according to data from his team’s research. (Patrick Butler / Radio-Canada)

Earlier Friday, Dr Proton Rahman testified about the difficulty of running epidemiological models on COVID-19
contagion in the province due to the low number of cases.

A scenario his team prepared for the court indicated that the infection rate could have been 20 times higher without the travel ban.

Rahman, a clinical epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said the natural course of contagion in the province matched the results of his models.

“It matched broadly,” Rahman said.

Lawyers will present their final submissions in the case on Tuesday.

Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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