Rapid testing at airports to replace mandatory quarantine for international travellers

From The Vancouver Sun – link to story

Bryan Passifiume • Oct 22, 2020 

Travellers wear masks at Pearson airport arrivals, shortly after Toronto Public Health received notification of Canada’s first presumptive confirmed case of coronavirus, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 25, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio ORG XMIT: GGG-TOR104

The federal government will replace mandatory 14-day quarantines with rapid COVID-19 tests for international air passengers, the Sun has learned.

The move will mandate that arriving passengers be required to submit to a rapid COVID-19 test to ensure they are free from the potentially deadly respiratory disease upon arrival, and replace the problematic and rarely enforced mandatory two-week quarantine for all incoming international travellers.

It’s a position advocated and implemented by many airlines and air travel authorities around the world, and one Canada has so far lagged behind in putting into effect.

Timelines on when the program will begin have yet to be announced, but sources tell the Sun it’s expected to be first implemented in one hub airport — either Toronto Pearson or Calgary — before being rolled out to the rest of the country.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Calgary Airport Authority CEO Bob Sartor are to make an air transportation-related announcement in that province at 10:30 a.m. Mountain Time, when he’s expected to announce the plan.

Since the federal government implemented its COVID-19 containment strategy in March, only four Canadian airports — Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver — are permitted to accept international flights.

Government records reveal dozens of flights with passengers with confirmed COVID-19 infections, with Toronto becoming a sort of ‘central hub’ for spreading the virus to the rest of Canada via domestic flights.

In September, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — in association with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) — called for the widespread implementation of pre-departure testing as a means to make air travel safer and encourage people to fly again.

That was around the same time a meeting took place with top government officials, where advocates urged the government to accept a proposal to implement arrival testing at Canadian airports.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu last month dismissed the August approval of rapid antigen testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calling it a “false sense of security.”

Hajdu’s stance seems to have done a 180 since then, after Health Canada earlier this month suddenly gave the nod for three, on-site, lab-free rapid COVID-19 tests to be sold in Canada.

Canada said it will purchase 8.5 million Panbio rapid tests from Abbott Rapid Diagnostics in Germany, as well as 7.9 million of Abbot’s ID Now test, with delivery expected by the end of this year.

In early October, Health Canada also approved the Hyris bCUBE, a portable ‘laboratory-in-a-box’ by Guelph, Ont.-based Songbird Life Sciences that promises COVID-19 test results in 90 minutes.