“No good public health rationale for a 2nd test”: Airline industry doctors join call for PCR test redeployment

“No good public health rationale for a 2nd test”: Airlines join call for PCR test redeployment

TORONTO — The Chief Medical Officers of Health for Canada’s two biggest airlines – as well as for Canada’s biggest airport – are adding their calls to the federal government to reprioritize the use of PCR tests in communities across Canada, rather than at airports.

Dr. Jim Chung, Chief Medical Officer – Air Canada, Dr. Edward Wasser, Chief Medical Officer – Toronto Pearson and Dr. Tammy McKnight, Chief Medical Officer – WestJet Airlines have sent a letter to various government ministers and officials including Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, Ontario’s Health Minister and Deputy Premier, Christine Elliott and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Their message echoes that of the Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable: redeploy much-needed PCR tests and lab resources to community use, where omicron transmission rates are as high as 30%, and ramp down or eliminate PCR testing for arrivals at Canadian airports, with transmission rates currently around 3%.

“We need to ensure Canada’s limited testing resources are being used where Canadians need them most — to support our communities, schools, hospitals and long-term care homes,” say Dr. Chung, Dr. Wasser and Dr. McKnight in their letter.

“As the government has ramped up testing at airports for international arrivals, we have seen frontline workers struggle to get PCR tests and lab processing capacity decrease significantly,” they add.

“As every person travelling to Canada must take a PCR test prior to getting on a plane inbound to Canada and must be fully vaccinated, there is no good public health rationale for a second test upon arrival,” says the doctors.

“We know that the primary concern for Omicron is in the community. By extension, the primary need for testing is in our community; not at our airports. Now is the time to act.”

The doctors say they’re calling on the federal government to work with Ontario to implement the following measures …

  • Remove mandatory arrivals testing from airports and shift these scarce resources to our schools, community and healthcare system
  • Revert to surveillance arrival testing of international air passengers
  • Require mandatory isolation for persons arriving from an international location if they are exhibiting symptoms or test positive on a surveillance test. Travellers who are asymptomatic after receiving their negative pre-departure test before travel to Canada should not be required to isolate.

“Collectively, our organizations have worked hard to keep travel safe, and we have achieved a positivity rate that is ten times less than community spread. Now is the time to shift testing resources to where they’re needed most. Removing arrivals PCR testing from Toronto Pearson airport alone would free up 8,000 tests a day for the GTA, which will help keep our most vulnerable — those in long-term care, hospitals and our children attending school — safe,” they say.

“Now is the time to put scarce testing resources where Canadians need them most: in our communities and not in our airports.”

Get travel news right to your inbox!