Alberta pilot to offer COVID-19 test to international travelers

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A woman walks through the international departures area of ​​Calgary International Airport on June 9, 2020

Todd Korol / Le Globe and Mail

Some international travelers arriving in Alberta will be able to get tested for COVID-19 upon entering the country, which will allow them to shorten their quarantine time to just a few days.

The pilot project, which could be expanded elsewhere in the country, will mark a significant change in the approach of international travelers during the pandemic and make it easier for Canadians who wish to travel abroad but cannot manage a quarantine period of two weeks. when they come back.

Premier Jason Kenney said the goal is to limit disruption to travelers arriving in Canada, including business travelers or returning Albertans, while helping the struggling travel industry.

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“Recognizing … the fact that COVID will not go away anytime soon, we have looked for new ways to support the travel industry and promote travel safety,” Kenney said at a press conference in Calgary .

“We have to find ways to bring travel back safely if we are ever to get the economy back on all cylinders.”

Currently, the federal government requires anyone entering the country to be quarantined for 14 days. The border is closed to tourism and non-essential travel, but there are still flights arriving in the country for returning Canadians, essential workers, family reunification and some business trips.

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Beginning November 2, international travelers arriving at the Calgary airport or crossing from Montana at the Coutts, Alta overland crossing will have the opportunity to take a COVID-19 test.

These travelers will have to self-isolate until they receive their test result, but if the test turns negative, they will no longer have to self-quarantine as long as they agree to stay in Alberta for 14 days, to wear a mask in public, to provide daily symptoms. updates to health officials and avoid visiting places with vulnerable groups. They also have to take a second test at a pharmacy six or seven days after arrival.

If they show any symptoms at any point in this process, they will need to return to quarantine.

Mr Kenney said the current rules mean that if a person in Alberta wants to take a week-long trip out of the country, they may need to take three weeks off to accommodate the quarantine requirement. . This will considerably shorten this time.

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Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the goal was to reduce quarantine restrictions while ensuring travelers do not increase the burden of COVID-19 in Canada.

“The [the quarantine requirement] has been a huge irritant and a challenge for business and for travelers as well as for family reunification – all sorts of things that we have been talking about over the past few months, ”Hajdu told reporters in Ottawa.

Ms. Hajdu declined to say when the measures could be rolled out to other provinces. In Alberta, the government plans to expand it to Edmonton Airport early next year.

Tim Sly, epidemiologist and professor emeritus at the School of Public Health at Ryerson University, said Canada has been slow to increase testing for outgoing and inbound travelers, so he viewed Thursday’s announcement as a good step.

However, he questioned the wisdom of allowing travelers to leave quarantine so soon after arrival. He said if a person is infected just before leaving on a trip or infected en route, the first test will not detect it and they could become contagious before the results of their second test a week later.

“If someone arrives on the plane in Calgary and was infected at the airport before leaving or on the plane during the trip,” he said, “the test on their arrival will be unnecessary. It’s way too early. ”

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He said it would be safer to keep those travelers in isolation until that second test, which could further cut the quarantine period in half.

John McKenna, president of the Air Transport Association of Canada, which represents 30 regional carriers, said the changes in Alberta are a good start that will help the industry.

“This is one of the keys to reviving this industry: reducing the quarantine time that discourages anyone from flying,” he said.

Mr McKenna said that in order to work, the rules need to be uniform across the country, including where there are regional quarantine requirements, such as in the “Atlantic bubble” on the east coast.

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