Wednesday,  February 24, 2021  6:23 pm

Mandatory COVID-19 testing may be coming to Toronto Pearson airport: report


Mandatory COVID-19 testing may be coming to Toronto Pearson airport: report
The Arrivals Testing Pilot Program can be found at Terminal 1 & Terminal 3 at YYZ. (Toronto Pearson)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The free COVID-19 testing service that Ontario opened at Toronto Pearson airport on Jan. 6 has, to date, been completely voluntary for travellers arriving from outside of the country.

Now, according to inside sources, the province is looking at making the testing mandatory.

According to a Wednesday night (Jan. 27) report filed by CP24, Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, is looking into issuing a section 22 order under the Health Promotion and Protection Act to mandate testing for international arrivals.

CP24 got its information from a “government source” but did not name names.

READ MORE: Ford blasts Ottawa for stalling on COVID-19 testing at airports

More than 6,800 international travellers have, so far, been tested for COVID-19 in the border testing project at Pearson.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has long called on the federal government to speed up testing efforts at airports to catch COVID-19 in its tracks before entering communities.

Mandatory testing at airports has been one of Premier Ford's loudest federal requests in calling for tougher action at the border.

146 positive cases at YYZ

Of the 6,800-plus tests that have been collected at Pearson, (and of those who have received confirmed lab results), 146 cases, or 2.26 per cent, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Ontario government. 

Ontario officials say the pilot program is working to detect positive cases, even with the Canadian government’s 72-hour, pre-departure testing requirement for air arrivals.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford addresses media at Toronto Pearson airport on Jan. 26, 2021.

The percentage of coronavirus virus cases linked to travelling abroad is low, however. 

Recent data shows that just 1.8 per cent of all COVID cases in Canada are related to international travel.

Recent reports of COVID-19 variants circulating in Canada has forced governments to revaluate the country’s travel restrictions.

Premier Ford on Tuesday (Jan. 26) said the federal government should temporarily ban flights from countries where COVID-19 variants have been reported, such as Brazil and Portugal.

READ MORE: Premier Ford calls on Ottawa to ban flights from countries with COVID-19 variants

Banning flights with multiple stops in countries with a known variant should also be considered, he said.

"While we've made steady progress through this pilot program, thousands of people continue to pass through Pearson every week without being tested, creating a real risk to all Ontarians," Ford told reporters at Pearson on Tuesday. "That's why, in addition to pre-departure testing, we're asking the federal government to adopt mandatory testing upon arrival for all international travellers and impose a temporary ban on flights coming from countries where new COVID-19 strains are being detected.”

“Until vaccines are widely available, we all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus and that means tighter controls at our border."

Tougher rules coming

Banning flights to keep COVID-19 variants out of Canada is something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done before, and may possibly do again, as the government looks at ways to tighten travel restrictions.

READ MORE: Travel represents a “small proportion of infections,” but tougher rules are coming, says Trudeau

In December, Canada temporarily banned flights from the United Kingdom after a highly-contagious variant of COVID-19 was reported there.

But that ban was lifted on Jan. 7 when Canada’s new pre-departure testing requirement for international arrivals took effect.

Earlier this week, Trudeau said that “all options are on the table" when it comes to enhancing Canada's travel rules, including a possible mandatory hotel quarantine order for international arrivals.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce new travel measures this week.


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