British Columbia

Vancouver International Airport increases screening of overseas arrivals as one of Canada's 4 entry points

Travellers arriving on overseas flights will face increased signage about the novel coronavirus, both in print and digital, after they disembark, while Canada Border Services Agency staff and health-care staff monitor them closely for symptoms.

More signage and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms among incoming passengers

International passengers are pictured through a medway at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in Richmond, B.C., on March 17, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) says it is working to increase screening measures as it becomes one of only four Canadian airports accepting international travellers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The airport's CEO said travellers arriving on overseas flights will face increased signage about the novel coronavirus, both in print and digital, after they disembark, while Canada Border Services Agency staff and health-care staff monitor them closely for symptoms.

"Everyone is getting blanketed with information — as much signage as they can take," said Craig Richmond, speaking from the airport on Tuesday.

The Vancouver airport, along with airports in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, will be the only airports in Canada accepting international flights as of Wednesday. The reduction in airports accepting overseas travellers comes as Canada closes its borders to anyone who is not a Canadian citizen, Canadian permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, with some exceptions for diplomats and airline crews.

Overseas flights are being funnelled through the four airports to allow the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to better screen arrivals and ensure the passengers are getting information that they are to self-isolate for 14 days.

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The border agency and airport both said automated questionnaires set up at kiosks at entry points are now asking whether people have coughs, difficulty breathing or a feeling of feverishness — symptoms of the virus.

Incoming passengers will be required to acknowledge they're being asked to self-isolate for two weeks to keep COVID-19 from spreading before they can leave.

"If [arriving passengers] are free of symptoms and they've made the declaration that they will isolate, they can continue on," said Richmond.

Richmond said CBSA officers will approach travellers who appear to be showing symptoms. The airport president said masks will be handed out to those who are ill. Personnel with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are also stationed at the airport, monitoring passengers.

People who are sick will be pulled aside for an interview with PHAC personnel. If they are ill, they will be given a mask. Passengers who are seriously ill will be directed to to a health care professional.

The international arrivals hall at Vancouver International Airport is pictured empty at 1:30 p.m. PT on March 16, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Malachi Bender Bennett)

PHAC is responsible for the implementation of screening at airports. Richmond said the airport is following the agency's directives.

"There's not doubt that this is more broad and deep than 9/11. If you recall, we were flying within five days of 9/11 and this is going to ... take a longer period of time to contain the virus," said Richmond, who has worked at the airport for more than 20 years.

"Having said that ... the airport we will never close, come hell, high water or COVID-19."

The increased screening measures were enacted after criticism mounted over the weekend, with residents asking why the measures at borders and airports were seemingly lax, given the gravity of the outbreak. 

Previously, travellers passing through Canadian airports were asked whether they have recently visited Hubei province in China, Italy or Iran — but not where exactly they have travelled or whether they went to other countries hit by outbreaks.

Airlines are now required to screen all passengers for signs of the novel coronavirus and deny boarding to anyone showing symptoms, including Canadians.

A passenger walks through international departures at Vancouver International Airport on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Tuesday, Richmond reiterated health officials' advice for Canadians to stay home as the outbreak continues.

"If you don't have to come to the airport, just like if you don't have to leave your house for any reason, don't do it," he said.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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