Known as the Canada Science & Policy Committee to Exit the Pandemic, the group says the pandemic is effectively over because it has reached the endemic stage.
“It’s endemic. We’re good to go on the general immunity front,” Irvin Studin, co-chair of the committee, said at a press conference on Feb. 18.
“At the front end on COVID-19, all restrictions are, for all practical intents and purposes, to be removed expressly. Vaccination mandates, vaccination passports, masking requirements, quarantining requirements, testing requirements are to be removed expressly.”
The group issued a national exit plan on Feb. 18, detailing how Canada can transit out of the pandemic over the next few months, with an emphasis on dropping all related mandates and restrictions immediately.
For the immunocompromised, aged, and those with comorbidities, the group recommended early interventions, seasonal vaccination, and other treatments.
Studin said now that the plan is ready, it will be briefed to governments and decision-makers across the country. He noted many of them have already been briefed.
“It will help them. In some cases, they will use it outright. In other cases, they will fill in details for local realities,” he said.
The exit committee, made up of 15 members across disciplines and all regions in Canada, was launched in January under the aegis of the think tank Institute for 21st Century Questions (21CQ).
Among the committee’s core members are Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, a critical care physician from the Ottawa Hospital; Pierre Pettigrew, a former health minister; Thomas Michalak, professor of molecular virology and medicine (hepatology) at Newfoundland and Labrador’s University; and Alexandra Lysova, an associate professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University.
The committee declared Canada’s pandemic officially over as of Feb. 16.
Studin, also president of 21CQ, stressed that the removal of pandemic restrictions has to work in concert with “eight national systems in crisis,” including COVID-19 public health, non-COVID-19 public health, business and the economy, education, institutions, national unity, the social fabric, and the international space.
“If we remove restrictions for business, we still have tens of thousands of businesses that disappeared. Many businesses cannot be returned to. So it’s removal of restrictions plus the requisite energy to re-consolidate the systems and prepare them for tomorrow,” he said.
“We want it to be understood that the exit plan is a matrix. It is not a thing or a single action,” he added.
“If you reduce everything to just the COVID bit, which has been our intellectual collapse over the last two years, then the other systems collapse and cause even more spillover, grief, and death. So the exit from the pandemic is COVID-plus; it is high energy across all the systems.”
The detailed National EXIT Plan from the pandemic, from the Canada Science & Policy Committee to EXIT the Pandemic. High energy(!), across 8 national systems in crisis, across ALL of Canada's regions in time. Bon week-end to one and all!@i21CQ @kwadwo777https://t.co/uWJAK4VuU8
— Irvin Studin (@IrvinStudin) February 18, 2022
The committee’s exit plan is described in a matrix table that maps out the strategies for each of the eight crisis areas by Canadian region (All-of-Canada, Centre, West, Atlantic, North) and by month (February, March, April, and May 2022).
Highlights of the exit plan in February include removing vaccine mandates for Canadians travelling overseas, ending testing requirements for Canadians leaving and arriving in the country, and dropping all travel restrictions between and among provinces and territories.
The committee will also work alongside provincial and territorial governments to have them commit publicly not to revert to shutdowns, which hurt business confidence, and to commit to never closing schools again. Students have to return to in-person schooling, and all masking, cohorting, and distancing restrictions are to be removed.
“The university should not be mandating vaccination for students at this point at all,” Studin said.
“There is a dark category of young people across the country that are not able to access university or sport or social settings, or camps or schools in some cases, by virtue of a decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate.”
For long-term care settings, the plan seeks to have facilities end policies that isolate elderly patients, to increase staffing, and to encourage the return of any staff lost during the pandemic in order to keep a mandatory minimum staff-to-patient ratio for adequate care.
Physicians will have to return to full-time in-person care, along with laid-off hospital staff returning to work to safeguard the country’s health-care system, the plan recommended.
In March, the plan aims to achieve the reopening of all Canadian borders to visitors without restrictions, among other priorities.
By April, sports, tournaments, festivals, play, and travel should be restored for children.
Studin said the committee was formed to bring Canada’s medical, scientific, and policy communities together to avoid working in silos and speed up a systematic plan to exit from the pandemic.
“We’ve worked intensively over the last two months consulting in all the sectors, all parts of the country, many specialists, government officials,” he said.
“Even elected politicians from different parties, different parts of the country had fed in quietly to our work because everyone realized that we must exit.”
Presented in Studin’s blog on Feb. 18, the rationale for declaring an end to the pandemic is that COVID-19 is “now highly manageable for Canada’s health and other systems.” Interventions can also now be far more targeted, and the virus is increasingly a “minor systems issue” among the eight systems identified.
“This is consistent with the considered positions, today, of, among others, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway,” the blog said.