Politics

Health officials looking into whether airport COVID-19 tests can replace quarantine measures

Dr. Theresa Tam says more research needed to determine if testing can replace 14-day self isolation

Posted: August 28, 2020
Last Updated: August 28, 2020

A man wearing a mask and full face shield talks on the phone at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on June 23, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says officials are looking into whether it's practical to test people for COVID-19 when they enter Canada instead of requiring them to quarantine.

Canada closed its borders to most non-citizens back in March, with some exceptions. People who cross into Canada have to self-isolate for 14 days to make sure they don't spread the virus, whether they're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or not.

During a health briefing in Ottawa today, Tam was asked whether the government is looking at testing passengers at international airports instead of requiring them to quarantine for two weeks — a measure which would drastically reduce their time in isolation.

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Watch: Dr. Theresa Tam talks about testing international arrivals

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Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam answers if testing arrivals at international airports could eventually replace the 14-day quarantine period.  1:18

"Absolutely. We'll be actively looking at those options," Tam said, adding that more research is required before any changes are introduced.

"As we look at options going forwards and we're sort of reducing the more restrictive measures at the border, how we apply testing in that context is being actively explored."

Tam offered no timeline and stressed that the Public Health Agency still needs to conduct more research into how mass testing would work, and would have to reach out to local health authorities about implementation.

"A bit more data on, you know, what happens when we test travellers at different time periods after they enter Canada, to see if those studies will yield us some information that we can then apply more broadly," she said.

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For now, Tam said, the 14-day isolation requirement remains in effect.

Air Canada planning a testing trial: Reuters

Her comments come as Reuters reports that Air Canada is planning a voluntary COVID-19 test trial for passengers arriving at Pearson airport in Toronto, the country's largest airport, to help persuade the federal government to end strict quarantine rules.

According to a presentation delivered by Air Canada Chief Financial Officer Michael Rousseau and obtained by Reuters, the airline is working with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and expects to begin a trial after the Labour Day holiday on Sept. 7. It would consist of a test at Toronto's Pearson Airport followed by two tests at home.

Air Canada is hoping that "the data collected will convince the government to take more of a science-based approach with the 14-day quarantine requirement waived or reduced for those with successful (negative) tests," says the presentation, compiled by the consulting firm Raymond James.

Watch: Tam on whether airport COVID-19 tests could replace quarantine measures for travellers?

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Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says officials are looking into whether it's practical to test people for COVID-19 when they enter Canada instead of requiring them to quarantine.  10:34

With files from Reuters