OTTAWA — Barret Armann, President of Unifor Local 7378, joined Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner yesterday at a press conference on Parliament Hill, calling on the federal government to prioritize rapid COVID-19 testing strategies for air travel.
Armann, a pilot, says the airline industry continues to deal with massive job losses as the pandemic and Canada’s travel restrictions near the nine-month mark.
“The government has failed workers in our sector and they have failed Canadians by not implementing rapid testing,” said Armann. “Rapid testing has proven effective in other countries. Pilots have always been about safety and rapid testing means safety for Canadians and their families.”
PATCHWORK OF INITIATIVES
In recent months the travel industry has seen a patchwork of COVID-19 testing initiatives at Canada’s airports.
Earlier this week YUL Montreal-Trudeau International Airport announced a new rapid screening process for COVID-19 effective Dec. 15. So far though it’s only available to departing passengers whose final destination is metropolitan France and who are taking a flight served by Air Canada – the initial partner of the project – Air France, KLM or Air Transat.
Other testing initiatives include Calgary Airport’s two-test process for arriving international passengers, with an eye to reducing or eliminating the 14-day quarantine. And in September Air Canada launched voluntary COVID-19 testing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, also for arriving international passengers.
Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement has long been seen as one of the biggest hurdles to restarting travel. “Everybody wants to be compliant with those requirements but if there’s a better way we should be looking at it,” said Rempel Garner.
Between March 31 and Nov. 12, 2020 more than 5 million people, mostly essential workers, have entered Canada without doing the quarantine, according to stats from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“We know there’s a better way, and that’s the implementation of rapid testing,” said Rempel Garner. “This is a no-brainer. There are best practices around the world. Why aren’t we doing this?”
She added: “Canadians and this industry need the certainty that could be provided by this common sense measure.”
“NO AMOUNT OF BAILOUT IS GOING TO HELP”
Rempel Garner said that the vaccine rollout, slated to start this month, shouldn’t be mutually exclusive with other measures. “It’s not either-or. The federal government needs to have a rapid testing strategy concurrent with a vaccine rollout because we know it’s going to a long time” that Canada is dealing with the pandemic, she said.
“Very bluntly put, the airline industry is on life support right now and no amount of bailout is going to help that industry, unless we have a clear plan that involves some certainty around this particular issue,” she added. “This is what every airline, every airline sector worker group in the sector is asking for. The science is there. The best practice is there.”
An EKOS Research poll earlier this fall, with a sample size of 1,244 respondents, showed that 57% of Canadians support a reduction or elimination of the 14-day mandatory quarantine for inbound travellers with proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival.
The website BetterBorders.ca, organized by the unionized employees at some of Canada’s biggest airlines, invites Canadians to email their MP to take action on prioritizing rapid testing.