Health officials have started to test sewage at Toronto Pearson Airport in the hunt for “new and rare” COVID-19 variants that might be entering Canada. The testing programme is part of a pilot project which is designed to act as an “early warning system”.
Testing wastewater for COVID-19 can be traced right back to the very start of the pandemic. The earliest reported example came from the Netherlands in March 2020 when positive samples suggested that the virus was spreading much faster than official government data suggested.
The presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be detected in human faeces up to a week before the onset of symptoms meaning that health officials can get a head start on any spike in cases or the introduction of a new variant.
The testing programme at Toronto Pearson is part of a wider provincial surveillance program, and the airport is just one of a number of collection points.
Alongside wastewater testing, travellers entering Canada through Pearson Airport are also subject to mandatory random testing. The Public Health Agency of Canada restarted the compulsory programme in July just a month after suspending the programme and despite protests from the airline industry.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has accused Canada of becoming a “total outlier in managing COVID-19 and travel” and has urged the Canadian government to roll back restrictions and testing requirements.
Health officials maintain that the testing rules are “guided by science and prudence”.
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.