As travel re-opens, health experts warn that risks remain for new waves of COVID transmission

With travel numbers in the U.S. this Memorial Day weekend reaching pre-pandemic levels, you’d think that the COVID-19 crisis was over, but health experts are repeating their warning that people need to remain cautious or risk repeating the mistakes of last summer’s re-opening.

“I am very concerned about people who are not vaccinated who think that because the rates are down, they’re off the hook. They’re wrong. They could very well get sick, they very well could end up in the hospital. They could die,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious diseases physician in Miami in an interview with Global News.

At the moment, nearly 50 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and the country is aiming to hit 70 per cent by July 4. Canada is hoping to reach the 75 per cent mark by the end of the summer, but is that target enough to end the pandemic?

It might be enough to return life closer to normalcy, but some scientists think that an even higher vaccination rate might be the ideal to aim for, rates similar to what we have against diseases like measles and polio.

In a Globe & Mail analysis, four scenarios were examined to see what vaccination target would help the country avoid a fourth wave of infection.

“Modelling suggests that if Canada’s vaccination rate can reach 90 per cent, the result will not simply be a better outcome, it could be a different path entirely – one that substantially reduces of the risk of a fourth wave,” the analysis concluded.

Similar warnings are being sounded in the United Kingdom which has seen travel numbers skyrocket since restrictions were eased this month.

Even as the European commission calls for more reductions in COVID-related travel restrictions, British scientists warn that many European countries don’t track coronavirus variants while others don’t share their data, leading to blind spots about potential mutations travellers could bring back to the U.K.

“As nations come out of their lockdown and the travel restrictions are lifted, and everyone is going to start moving around over the next few weeks and months, it’s going to be a real problem as we’re not going to be able to track the emergence of new variants, where they come from, and how they spread,” said Aris Katzourakis, a professor of evolution and genomics at Oxford University, in an interview with The Independent.

Like the U.S., the U.K. enjoys a high level of vaccination against COVID, but scientists said Monday that the country is already seeing the signs of a third wave of infection fueled by the Indian variant of the virus.

“The numbers of cases are relatively low at the moment – all waves start with low numbers of cases that grumble in the background and then become explosive, so the key here is that what we are seeing here is the signs of an early wave,” said Professor Ravi Gupta, from the University of Cambridge in an interview with BBC News.

“There may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern,” said Gupta.

Even China, which had reportedly beaten back the virus early on, is alarmed by a recent surge in cases in the southern province of Guangdong which forced it to re-impose anti-coronavirus travel controls there.

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