The Canadian government has announced a joint pilot program with the province of Alberta to replace a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for new international arrivals entering Canada with a simple two-step COVID-19 testing process. The program has been applauded by Air Canada and WestJet who have both demanded what they describe as a “science-based” approach to restarting international travel.
Officials hope to get the pilot program up and running by November 2, with travellers entering Canada through Calgary International Airport and the Coutts land border crossing able to skip the majority of the quarantine period by taking a test on arrival.
Before proceeding through customs, travellers will take a COVID-19 test and then enter mandatory quarantine. As soon as the test comes back negative (which could take between 24 and 48 hours) travellers will be able to get on with their lives so long as they commit to doing three things: wearing a face mask in public, not visiting high-risk groups and taking a second test on day six or seven of their arrival into Canada.
People taking part in the trial will also have to self-monitor for Coronavirus symptoms throughout the first 14-days of their arrival. The second test can be taken at a community pharmacy participating in the pilot program, although officials didn’t reveal the costs involved.
Air Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr Jim Chung claimed early results from a joint study with McMaster Health Labs at Toronto airport gave the federal government and Alberta officials the “confidence to move forward with this new testing initiative”.
Preliminary results from the study found that just 1 per cent of passengers arriving into Canada and taking a test on arrival went on to test positive for the novel Coronavirus after three ‘gold standard’ PCR swab tests.
More than 80 per cent of the positive cases were detected after the first test, while the remaining 20 per cent of positive cases were detected on day seven. Zero positive cases were detected by day 14.
WestJet, which is based in Calgary, welcomed the initiative as chief executive Ed Sims heaped praise on Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. Airlines and aviation unions have previously slammed the Trudeau administration for offering little support to the industry to weather the Corona crisis.
Health minister Patty Hajdu said quarantine restrictions would only be lifted if alternatives were supported by strong scientific evidence. “This is why we are moving forward with this program, as part of our efforts to gradually restart economic activity and keep protecting Canadians at the same time,” the minister commented on Thursday.
Hajdu did not say how long the trial would last or when passengers arriving into other parts of Canada might be able to take a test on arrival rather than endure a 14-day quarantine.
Travellers taking part in the current trial will have to remain in Alberta for 14-days to take advantage of the scheme and the Canadian border remains closed to most foreign nationals.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.