As provincial governments weigh in on whether masking indoors should become mandatory again as COVID-19 cases spike, Canada’s Transport Minister has sounded off on the matter, telling reporters Thursday (Nov. 17) that people should wear masks on planes and trains.
Minister Omar Alghabra shared his advice following a briefing with Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, who says that wearing masks, in addition to taking other precautions, could make it easier on hospitals as they cope with a surge of respiratory viruses.
“I continue to wear my mask when I’m travelling on a plane,” Alghabra told reporters yesterday. “Given the pressure that our hospitals are dealing with and our health-care system, I think it’s the kind thing to do to protect others around us.”
The Minister, however, stopped short of making masks a mandatory onboard requirement for trains and planes, as it was during most of the pandemic until officials, on Oct. 1, ended the policy and made masks optional.
(Travellers, however, have still been advised to wear one).
Masks recommended – but not mandatory
The threat of COVID-19 variants, influenza and a surge of the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is putting pressure on hospitals in various parts of the country, reports say.
Earlier this week, in Ontario, the province’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, urged people to wear masks in all indoor spaces to assist overwhelmed children’s hospitals, which are seeing high volumes of sick children.
But that message was later watered down after Ontario’s health minister Sylvia Jones said Tuesday that it’s a “personal choice” to wear a mask.
“Personal choice is important here, and we should not be passing judgment on people who wear a mask or not wear a mask,” Jones said earlier this week outside the legislature. (Jones, for the record, was wearing a mask at the time).
At a virtual update last week, Dr. Tam warned that there is a need for “stepped-up precautions.”
Meanwhile, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says that even with rising rates of respiratory illness in her province, a mask mandate is not necessary just yet.
"I don't believe we need that heavy hand of a mandate," said Dr. Henry at a press conference earlier this week. "I don't see the need for a mask mandate by itself because we have many other tools and a high level of protection."
In Nova Scotia, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang is advising masks for those experiencing cold or flu symptoms, but he hasn’t committed to a full-on mandate.
Wearing a mask is recommended, but not mandatory.
“Public Health and Nova Scotia continue to encourage people to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces and we all need to respect people who choose to wear a mask,” Dr. Strang said earlier this week.
While regions across Canada mull masking regulations, none have brought back an actual mandate.
Dr. Tam took to Twitter yesterday to write that vaccinations, masks and staying home when people are sick provide the best protection, especially when layered together.
“Actions to reduce respiratory virus spread can lessen their impact on us (and) the health system,” she wrote.
When federal official announced the end of COVID-19 border restrictions at the end of September, they said the latest wave of the virus had largely passed and that travel-related cases were not having a major impact on the spread.
Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos, however, noted that restrictions could return if the situation warrants.