Replacing Traveller Quarantine With COVID Testing No Easy Task

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

Canadian airlines are in talks with Transport Canada to introduce COVID-19 testing at airports. 

The carriers are hoping the discussions will lead to developing measures that remove Ottawa's mandatory quarantine requirements for inbound travellers. But this development could still be far off, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. 

The discussions come as Canada's largest airlines are working to develop an airport testing scheme. 

WestJet and YVR announced last week they will test some departing travellers on domestic flights in a trial project due to begin in the fall, and an Air Canada executive told investors last week about a similar plan for YYZ.

Sources are warning not to get too hopeful. The use of airport testing to reduce or eliminate Canada’s strict two-week self quarantine rule would be logistically challenging as it would require cooperation from multiple stakeholders, including airports, airlines, federal and provincial health authorities, they say. Even if rapid-testing at airports were to take off, they say there is no guarantee that Canada would choose to lift the 14-day quarantine.

The government has faced pressure from the airline sector to amend its travel restrictions, which remain virtually unchanged since March. The country’s borders are closed to non-citizens except for essential workers and a global travel advisory against non-essential travel remains in place. All inbound travellers are under strict requirements to quarantine for two weeks.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic, IATA has been a strong proponent of widespread COVID-19 testing for airline passengers which would allow governments to reopen borders safely, while boosting travel.

“Airlines are committed to reducing the risks of COVID-19 transmission via air travel and COVID-19 testing could play an important role. But it must be implemented in line with ICAO’s global re-start guidance with the aim of facilitating travel. Speed, scale and accuracy are the most critical performance criteria for testing to be effectively incorporated into the travel process,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Governments removing and then reinstating border closures and quarantine measures is deteriorating consumers confidence and "killing aviation," de Juniac wrote in IATA's latest industry report, which   found global air travel demand in JUL plunged 80% year over year.  

That's an improvement compared with JUN, when demand dropped 87% year over year, but the industry "remains largely paralyzed," said de Juniac. 

Rapid point-of-care Polymerized Chain Reaction (PCR) testing at airports can address this uncertainty.

WestJet and YVR have not yet finalized joint plans to test some departing passengers. Tamara Vrooman, chief executive officer of YVR, told Globe and Mail the science and methods on testing change swiftly, and it is too soon to know which test will be used, or the people, procedures and regulatory requirements involved to administer it.

“If we get to a place where the efficacy is very sound, then the health authorities may make a direction [like] they have with masks in the terminal and other things about the need to introduce testing. But we’re way before that stage. We’re really just trying to understand how testing would work in an aviation and travel context," she told the Globe.

Vrooman said YVR will be sharing information from their own testing pilot with YYZ, and she expects it will do the same. 

A number of airports and countries around the world have implemented COVID-19 testing for passengers, but the methods and reliability vary. de Juniac said no airport in the world currently has the perfect example of the kind of regime the industry wants to implement.

Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said last week officials are looking into whether it's practical to test people for COVID-19 when they enter Canada instead of requiring them to quarantine, but noted the country’s 14-day self-isolation requirement is a proven measure.



Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.


Eddy Vorperian - September 9, 2020 @ 12:10
A testing based approach is required and quarantine restrictions lifted to move forward

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