Thursday,  December 3, 2020  8:48 pm

Will Ontario pilot rapid testing at border like Alberta? Premier Ford is into it


Will Ontario pilot rapid testing at border like Alberta? Premier Ford is into it
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is open to replacing Canada's 14-day quarantine for international travellers with COVID-19 rapid testing.
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.

News of an Alberta-based pilot project that will allow travellers entering Canada to reduce their two-week quarantine period for a COVID-19 rapid test was enthusiastically received by many in Canada’s travel industry yesterday.

The initiative, announced on Thurs. (Oct. 22), is open to voluntary Canadians returning to Canada through the province of Alberta, as well as foreign essential workers and others that are exempt from Canada's non-essential travel ban.

COVID-19 rapid tests will be offered at the Coutts land border crossing in southern Alberta and Calgary International Airport starting on Nov. 2.

The golden part of this science-based initiative is that participants can reduce their 14-day self-isolation time to nearly 48 hours if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.

People will, as part of the deal, have to take another test six or seven days after their initial arrival.

READ MORE: "We cannot turn our back to the travel industry”: Alberta launches rapid testing to reduce quarantine

Calgary-based travel advisor Tannis Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis, an affiliate of The Travel Agent Next Door, told PAX that she was “in tears” when she heard the news.

“This feels like a small win for our industry, especially for agents in Western Canada who have continually been battered,” Dyrland wrote in an email. “I’m literally dancing in my office. This is such great news.”

Tannis Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis, an affiliate of The Travel Agent Next Door. (Supplied)

Speaking to media in Calgary, Calgary Airport Authority CEO Bob Sartor called the project “a lifeline airports and airline partners need to instill confidence in air travel once again.”

WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims added that it was “first piece of good news” WestJet has received since February when the COVID-19 outbreak began, costing the airline 95 per cent of its bookings.

The project was developed in partnership with the federal government and Canada's travel industry. 

Speaking to media via telephone on Thursday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the pilot could expand to Edmonton by early 2021, noting that Ottawa is unrolling the program “on a limited basis.”

“I’ve been all over this"

Nonetheless, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was quick to chime in, speaking in favour of the project not long after it was announced.

His hope, he told reporters, is that Ontario can adapt a similar rapid testing initiative to ease quarantine rules. 

”I've been talking to Premier Kenny about it and when he had the conversation with the other Premiers, and the Prime Minister, we're keeping a really sharp eye on what's going to happen out in Calgary on this pilot project and I'd be open to it,” the Premier said.  

When asked further about the project, Ford said: “I’ve been all over this.”

However, he added that Ontario will have to wait for the results of Alberta’s study before launching something of its own.

“Toronto is much different than Calgary,” said Ford. “Calgary, it doesn't get the volume, number one, but doesn't get the diversification around the world. Everyone lands in Toronto, you know, so I've been on this from day one of this pandemic – we should be testing people right as soon as they get off that plane.”

Anxious to safely ease quarantine 

Air Canada began testing the effectiveness of Canada’s 14-day quarantine rules in early September with its own research at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

The study, a collaboration with McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, aimed to demonstrate the validity of COVID-19 testing as a means to ease travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.

READ MOREA closer look at Air Canada's COVID-19 study at Toronto Pearson Airport

Since the Toronto-Pearson study began on Sept, 3, MHL has conducted more than 28,000 tests of arriving travellers who volunteered to participate.

An interim report noted that more than 99 per cent tested negative for COVID-19 with less than 1 per cent having indicated COVID-19. (For more info, click here).

“The results from the McMaster study at Toronto-Pearson were instrumental in guiding the federal government and public health agencies to add the easing of quarantine to this latest testing initiative,” Calin Rovinescu, president and CEO at Air Canada, said Thursday in response to Alberta’s pilot project. “I have personally heard from numerous business leaders in Canada and from other countries who are very anxious to see the quarantine requirements safely abridged as soon as possible.”


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