TORONTO — After a long international flight, most passengers just want to get through customs and head home. But a quick (and voluntary) COVID-19 test at Air Canada’s new testing facility at Pearson Airport offers peace of mind and could also help boost the case for finding alternative measures to the current 14-day mandatory quarantine.
Launched yesterday and now at Pearson’s Terminal 1, Air Canada passengers arriving in Canada via international flights can take part in the new voluntary COVID-19 testing, in cooperation with McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).
Consenting passengers provide a sample to MHL researchers before leaving the airport and supply two additional samples that will be self-collected seven and 14 days after arrival, coinciding with the federal government’s quarantine period.
Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for all returning and arriving passengers, in place since mid-March, has been extended to Sept. 30.
QUARANTINE IS “ONE OF THE SINGLE BIGGEST BARRIERS”
Speaking with Travelweek at the launch, Air Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jim Chung, said restoring confidence in travel “is very important”.
Dr. Chung added: “We believe the 14-day quarantine is one of the single biggest barriers to travel right now. We hope with this study to collect enough data to provide the government alternatives to the 14-day quarantine in a safe and thoughtful and science- and evidence-based manner.”
Air Canada has been instrumental in the #timetotravel initiative, calling on the federal government to loosen Canada’s travel restrictions in a safe but effective manner.
Last week at a press conference, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said she was aware of Air Canada’s testing initiative, and she’s interested in the results. But “a negative [test] result will not excuse you from [the mandatory 14-day] quarantine,” she said.
Dr. Tam did say that while the quarantine is “still proven to work as a public health measure”, the federal government is “actively looking at options” like COVID-19 testing at airports and other measures.
Asked if there’s a timeline for that, Tam said, “not at the moment.” However, she added, “we realize that in living with this virus, we need to revisit this issue on a very real-time basis.”
She also acknowledged that Canada “has one of the most stringent quarantine measures in the entire world.” And she repeated assertions made at press conferences throughout the pandemic that so far there have been no reports in Canada of someone who has contracted COVID-19 from a flight.
A report at CBC.ca today notes that in February 2020, 42.2% of COVID-19 cases were linked to international travel. After borders closed around the world in March and April, that figure fell to 0.4% in May 2020. In early August, when travel in and out of countries around the world was slowly opening back up with safety measures in place, the rate was 3.2%.
“THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY HAS GONE ABOVE AND BEYOND”
Attendees at yesterday’s launch included travel industry veteran Lorraine Simpson.
Based in Toronto, Simpson got her start as a full-time, home-based travel agent. She now shares her retail travel industry knowledge and expertise in her role as Cityline TV’s Travel Expert along with other media outlets.
Air Canada’s new science-based COVID-19 initiative “is a positive step for everyone – the travel industry and our population,” says Simpson.
“Our country has the most closed borders in the world,” she says. “The travel industry has gone above and beyond to put in health and safety measures to mitigate and reduce the risks of COVID-19. All of us believe that health and safety is paramount.”
Simpson says she’s impressed by Air Canada’s partnership with MLH and GTAA, adding: “A voluntary study on international travellers arriving in Toronto will help restore confidence in people to travel again. The study, which is to gather information and look into the effectiveness of different quarantine periods for travellers, demonstrates how Canada is taking the lead in responding to COVID-19.”
Simpson adds: “We are devastated by COVID-19 in our industry, and as an industry we’re thrilled to be able to see that testing is given large importance. The partnership and study clearly demonstrates safety-leadership, innovation, and more importantly shows how the travel industry is doing all it can to make travellers feel safe at the airports and in the skies.”
Lorraine Simpson is currently working on a video that will showcase the value of travel agents. For more details email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is lorrainesimpson.com.