International border COVID-19 testing pilot at Edmonton airport to begin Feb. 1

Edmonton International Airport officials are guardedly optimistic about the coming expansion of the COVID-19 international border testing pilot program. Currently the pilot is only available at the Calgary airport and the Coutts land border crossing.

Follows a 67.7% drop in travel at airport for 2020

Some parts of the Edmonton International Airport have been temporarily shut down due to decreased traffic. (David Bajer/CBC)

Edmonton International Airport officials are guardedly optimistic about the expansion on Feb. 1 of the COVID-19 international border testing pilot program.

Currently the pilot is only available to eligible international travellers arriving at Calgary International Airport and the Coutts land border crossing. 

Those participating in the program entering Canada will have to show proof of a negative test — taken within 72 hours before the flight — before being allowed to board the plane destined for the province.

Once they arrive in Alberta, they will be tested again and must quarantine for 48 hours. If the second test result comes back negative, they can leave quarantine as long as they remain in Alberta for the first 14 days and get a follow-up test a week later.

"We believe this is a great program," EIA vice-president Steve Maybee said. "We have to put these in place so when travel does come back and people are encouraged to travel again, that we have the right programs in place to make it safe."

Currently, both the federal and provincial governments are discouraging unnecessary travel. Maybee said EIA isn't encouraging people not to follow the advisories. 

"We're not suggesting or encouraging travel right now," he said. "We're following along with what the government restrictions and mandates that are in place."

Edmonton travel agent Lesley Paull thinks the expansion of the pilot program is a sign of better days ahead for local travellers.

"I think it's just going to give people more encouragement to go," Paull said. "We don't have as many flights as Calgary has, so we'll probably be starting a slower process, but hopefully with testing here, that will bring us more non-stop flights back." 

The testing is free of charge for eligible participants and the pilot will run until 52,000 people have been tested. 

No international flights for 6 months of 2020 at EIA 

Based on 2020 travel numbers, it may take awhile to get to that 52,000 mark. 

EIA said 2.6 million people went through their airport last year, compared to 8.1 million the year before, for an overall drop of 67.7 per cent.

EIA officials report a 67.7 per cent drop in 2020 airport traffic compared to the previous year. (David Bajer/CBC)

There were no international flights at all between April and September and flights to the United States were down 78.5 per cent. There was also a 70 per cent decrease in domestic flights coming in and going out of the Edmonton airport. 

The travel agent summed up her business in one word. 

"Brutal," Paull said with a laugh. 

But she hopes pent-up demand will lead to change. 

"We're doing so many bookings for 2022 now, and even the end of 2021," Paull said. "I think that people are so anxious to get out of here. They're really quite sick of the whole thing."


Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston