Federal health officials examining idea of testing arriving travellers at airports for COVID-19
OTTAWA -- Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says federal officials are looking into the idea of offering COVID-19 testing at airports, which would give travellers faster results after their arrival and potentially clear the way for them to end quarantine earlier.
Under current travel rules, people who travel into Canada from abroad must quarantine for 14 days, regardless of whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms, with some exceptions. Those who have symptoms must isolate for 14 days.
In a press conference on Friday, Dr. Tam said having people tested at the airport is possible, but Canada is still looking at studying what happens when travelers are tested at different times.
"Absolutely, as we look at options going forwards, reducing the more restrictive measures at the border, how we apply testing in that context is being actively explored," Dr. Tam said. "I think that there was some communication earlier on some of the testing protocols that could be implemented to, initially, give us a bit more data on what happens when we test travelers at different time periods after they enter Canada, to see if those studies will yield us information that we can apply more broadly."
Dr. Tam did not have a timeline for when these potential measures may come into effect.
"We have to, of course, have collaboration with local and provincial public health and other partners. It's not just a matter of public health science, but also implementation and operational requirements, given how that border is an extremely busy place," she said. "You have to look at what is the best site for doing testing as well. All of that goes into the consideration as we review the option."
For now, the 14-day rule still applies. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday that existing restrictions on international travel to Canada would be extended to Sept. 30.
Dr. Tam stressed that the two-week period of isolation remains a proven method for reducing the risk of travellers spreading COVID-19 once they arrive in the country.
"We still have a requirement for 14-day quarantine, with some exceptions, and that is proven to work as a public health measure," Dr. Tam said.
Dozens of flights from international destinations have landed in Canada in August with COVID-19 positive passengers aboard.
According to the federal government, more than 55 flights have landed in Canada between Aug. 1 and Aug. 18 that had passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in the country.
Most landed in Toronto, but some also touched down in Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, the four airports where international flights are currently allowed to land.
Not entirely clear how to integrate testing: Expert
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch tells CTV News that testing upon arrival could be a "component" of loosening quarantine restrictions, but tests don't always prove someone isn't infected.
"Its not entirely clear now, how testing could be integrated. It probably would involve testing over several different days," he said. "We know that just because you have a negative test on one day, does not ensure that a person is negative for COVID-19 Because someone could be incubating the virus at the time the test is conducted, and may ultimately be positive a few days later."
Most travellers at the Ottawa Airport, which is currently not accepting international flights, told CTV News they prefer the 14-day rule as it stands.
"The test just isn’t consistent enough. There’s so many reports of false negatives. I think quarantining is at this time, according to the science is the best option," said one traveller.
"It’s probably just best for everybody to err on the side of caution and just stay home for two weeks," said another.
However, there is some support for the idea.
"Fourteen days might be a lot, but if you guarantee that, lets say you have three negative tests in the first three days that you arrive, that could be a solution perhaps," a traveller said.