The COVID-19 border testing program that has been easing quarantine times for international travellers entering Canada through southern Alberta is expanding to Edmonton International Airport (YEG), with a projected start date of Feb. 1, 2021.
The first-of-its-kind initiative, first announced in October, allows international travellers to take a COVID-19 test upon arriving in Canada.
Travellers who test negative are allowed to exit their 14-day quarantine (a mandatory requirement for all arrivals since March) just as long as they remain in Alberta for the first 14 days, submit symptom checks and get a follow-up test about one week later.
Officials promise test results within two days, although some participants have received results much sooner than that.
The program has previously only been offered at Calgary International Airport and the Coutts landing border crossing.
Speaking to media on Monday (Jan. 18), YEG officials said airport testing will help make Edmonton a safer and more convenient travel option.
"To be able to do that right at the airport upon travel and prove the negative test and test people asymptomatic is important," Steve Maybee, vice-president, operations and infrastructure at YEG told CTV News Edmonton. "It's all about health and safety."
The project, which officially launched in November, is a joint-effort between the province of Alberta and the Government of Canada.
"..a brilliant move”
Many in the travel industry have hailed the program as an important step forward in kickstarting the country’s ailing travel economy.
Calgary-based travel advisor Tannis Dyrland considers the quarantine-reducing initiative as a “small win” for an industry decimated by the pandemic.
“It was a brilliant move,” Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis, an affiliate of The Travel Agent Next Door, told PAX in a previous interview. “For Alberta, it’s been fairly successful…We’re a smaller population, so it was a good place to start.”
Dyrland recently experienced the pilot project for herself at YYC after returning from a family vacation to Mexico in December. (Click here to read her first-hand account).
The travel advisor's quarantine time was reduced to a mere 15 hours, and when she started publicizing her positive experience, curious customers began trickling in.
“There’s definitely been more questions and inquiries,” Dyrland said.
Pictures from YYC that Dyrland shared with PAX show long lineups of travellers eager to get tested, suggesting that the pilot program has been popular.
WestJet, too, has praised the pilot project for boosting sales out of Calgary.
In a Nov. 6th column in the Calgary Herald, one week after the program’s launch, WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims said the testing has “brought a lift to our bookings not seen since before the pandemic.”
Calgary International Airport, as a result, has become a “place of hope” for international travel, wrote Sims.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has previously hinted that the testing program would expand to Edmonton by early 2021.
The Government of Canada has not yet indicated if the project will launch at major hubs like Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal.
In previous statements, Kenney said the federal government wants to start the program “on a limited basis.”
"We cannot turn our back to the travel industry or the tourism industry," Kenney said in October.
3 tests now required
The pilot project in Alberta remains unchanged under Canada’s new travel rule, which requires anyone older than five entering Canada to show proof of a negative COVID-19 (PCR) test taken within 72 hours of their departure time.
This means that three COVID-19 tests are now required for travellers who decide to utilize Alberta's program (the pre-departure test, the airport/border test, and the follow-up).
Recent data from YYC and the Coutts border crossing shows that, since fall, out of the 39,000 travellers who enrolled in the program, 1.15 per cent have tested positive.
According to the province of Alberta’s website, the pilot project will run until 52,000 participants have enrolled.
Ontario, on Jan. 6, unrolled free COVID-19 testing for international arrivals at Toronto Pearson airport, but has decided to keep its 14-day quarantine order.
Provincial officials have, however, announced plans to eventually modify quarantine periods for travellers who test negative.
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