MONTREAL — Starting today, Sept. 3, international Air Canada travellers arriving at Toronto-Pearson Terminal 1 can take part in Air Canada’s new voluntary COVID-19 testing initiative.
In cooperation with McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), the study is on a strictly voluntary basis after providing informed consent.
Consenting passengers will 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.
News of the new initiative first broke last week. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam was asked at a Public Health Agency of Canada press conference on Aug. 28 if she was aware of the initiative. Tam said she was, adding she’s interested in the results. However at that time she said “a negative [test] result will not excuse you from [the mandatory 14-day] quarantine.”
Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for all returning and arriving passengers, in place since mid-March, has been extended to Sept. 30.
MHL will have samples analyzed for COVID-19 at the Research Institute of St. Joe’s Hamilton using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
Participants will be notified electronically of the first results within 48 hours. Data collected will remain confidential and will be anonymously aggregated for the purpose of the study.
An independent data analysis will be conducted at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto under the supervision of the Principal Investigators who will have responsibility for publishing the results in peer reviewed journals and for supporting MHL in broadly sharing the study’s findings.
“Air Canada has advocated for the adoption of rational, science-based measures in Canada relating to COVID-19, to allow for the prudent easing of travel restrictions and the mandatory 14-day quarantine, thereby striking a better balance for travellers and for the Canadian economy without adversely impacting public health,” said Dr. Jim Chung, Chief Medical Officer at Air Canada. “We are pleased to co-sponsor this extremely important study, which we believe should provide alternatives to the current blanket restrictions and quarantine.”
Chung adds: ”Air Canada believes that issues arising from COVID-19 related to travel can be safely managed using a science-based approach. The study performed by MHL, whose team has years of infectious disease academic research experience, should improve the understanding of the prevalence of COVID-19 among travellers so that safety measures implemented are proportionate to the actual risk.”
John Gilmour, MHL’s CEO, says MHL’s team of scientists and doctors from McMaster University, the Research Institute of St. Joseph’s Hamilton, and other Canadian universities and research organizations, generates scientific COVID-19 data to keep Canadians safe and to support a strong economy. “Our study will provide data to help determine if an airport-based COVID-19 surveillance program is feasible, whether self-collection of COVID-19 testing is effective, and to explore options regarding the 14-day quarantine for international travel. The leadership of Air Canada and the GTAA in supporting COVID-19 research serves as a model for other organizations looking to make evidence-based decisions.”
Air Canada was among the first carriers globally to require customer face coverings onboard and the first airline in the Americas to take customers’ temperatures prior to boarding. Air Canada CleanCare+ applies industry leading biosafety measures at each stage of the journey. Air Canada is also active in the #TimeToTravel initiative.
“The Greater Toronto Airports Authority is committed to a science-based approach that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of passengers and airport workers. That starts with the collection and analysis of data, led by McMaster HealthLabs through their travel study,” said Deborah Flint, President and CEO, GTAA. “We are pleased to partner with Air Canada in this critically important work and welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Government of Canada on this and other initiatives to support the safe resumption of international travel.”
The month-long research project has been designed and will be conducted by MHL in accordance with research ethics board-approved scientific protocols. The study will be the largest of its kind and will seek to examine the number and percentage of arriving international travellers who test positive for COVID-19 during the federal government’s quarantine period.
Air Canada says the findings of the study may be useful to the Government of Canada in its decision-making to control the spread of COVID-19 and in exploring policy options. Air Canada, as the largest Canadian airline operating out of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, is providing resources and support for the study.