COVID-19 lands in Canada despite pre-flight testing

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March 31 (Reuters) – More than 1,000 air passengers have arrived in Canada infected with COVID-19 in a recent four-week period despite mandatory pre-departure testing, federal data that casts doubt on an easing general restrictions before the summer travel season.

Canada began testing international arrivals in February, forcing air travelers to spend up to three days in hotel quarantine at their own expense until results come back, a measure criticized by hard-hit airlines by the pandemic. People who test negative can complete a 14-day quarantine at home.

Federal policy was aimed at deterring people from traveling overseas during the traditional spring break season and looking for more contagious variants of the coronavirus, health officials said.

Canada’s air arrival positivity rate of 1.5% over four weeks from February 22 to March 25 is higher than those recorded by some other countries performing similar tests at airports.

Frankfurt Airport in Germany recorded a 0.4% positive test rate from 2,700 travelers over a four-week period this year, according to testing company Centogene NV.

Canadian government data showed that many international flights this year had passengers with the virus. From February 22 to March 25, out of 70,819 travelers tested on arrival, 1,094 were positive.

Travel-related cases suggest the government will not ease its on-arrival quarantine policy anytime soon, although airlines hope increased testing and vaccinations will lead to better business.

Canada’s travel restrictions are among the toughest in the world, with non-essential aliens typically refused entry and citizens returning from overseas requiring quarantine.

“These (test data) indicate that it is more important than ever to maintain strong border measures to protect Canadians,” said Cole Davidson, spokesperson for Canada’s Minister of Health.

Air Canada said it expects some easing of restrictions by the summer, while WestJet Airlines has asked Canada to move away from what was billed as a temporary quarantine requirement at hotels in ‘here May 1st.

The quarantine rule in hotels for air travelers encourages Canadians to travel to U.S. border towns and cross the border, a Westjet official said. These travelers are also tested, but can be quarantined for 14 days at any time.

Air travel, which is at about 10% of pre-pandemic levels, “is not responsible for the current situation we are in,” Andy Gibbons, WestJet’s director of government relations, said of the surge in COVID-19 cases in Canada.

Canada would not say how long the on-arrival testing and hotel quarantine policy will be in place.

On-arrival testing “can help identify people with COVID-19 who may have been exposed to the virus after their pre-arrival test, as well as those who may not have been detectable by the time they were tested. sample before arrival has been taken ”. Davidson said.

Canada has reported a total of 982,116 cases of coronavirus and 22,959 deaths from COVID-19.

Health officials warn that worrisome new coronavirus variants are increasing rapidly in several parts of Canada. Ontario, the most populous province, announced Thursday that it will enter a third lockdown on Saturday.

“For the moment, we do not think that this is the moment to relax the mandatory quarantine for travelers,” said Marjaurie Côté-Boileau, spokesperson for the Minister of Health of Quebec.

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Anna Mehler-Paperny in Toronto; Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Steve Scherer and Bill Berkrot

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