Ontario's backlog in COVID-19 testing making some international travellers miss their flights

Ontario's significant backlog in testing for the novel coronavirus is putting some people's international travel plans in jeopardy because they can't get the test results they need in a timely manner.

Some aren't getting their results in the allotted time international governments require

Shermain Paul, left, and her sister are pictured outside St. Joseph's Hospital on Sunday, Oct. 4. They were waiting for a COVID-19 test result so they could board their flight to Grenada for their father's funeral. (CBC)

Ontario's significant backlog in testing for the novel coronavirus is putting some people's international travel plans in jeopardy because they can't get the test results they need in a timely manner.

Shermain Paul was set to fly to Grenada Monday morning for her father's funeral, but with just hours to go before departure it was not clear whether she'd make it.

She came to St. Joseph's Hospital with her sister last Tuesday for a COVID-19 swab, seven days before their scheduled flight. It was the earliest they could get tested as per Grenada's requirement for incoming visitors. 

They were told they would receive their result within four days. Six days later, they still hadn't heard back.

"We haven't received any results and they can't guarantee me that I'm going to get it," said Paul as she stood outside of the hospital on Sunday with her father's death certificate in her hands. 

With less than 24 hours before their departure, Paul and her sister were desperate to get their result. They returned to the hospital with a last hope they could somehow obtain it there.

Father's funeral put off 3 times

"I already put my dad's funeral off three times," she said.

But after speaking with a nurse, they were told there was no guarantee, and advised to wait at the hospital until they could get more information.

Paul's plight came as Ontario faces a huge backlog of COVID-19 tests with 68,006 cases now under investigation, according to the province's website. Ontario's network of commercial, community, and hospital labs have been processing more than 30,000 tests for the novel coronavirus daily since Sept. 17, with plans to increase that number to 50,000 per day by mid-October and 68,000 tests per day by mid-November.

CBC Toronto has reached out to the province for comment on the situation facing Paul and other would-be travellers but so far there has been no response. 

Sean Chen was forced to reschedule his father's flight to China Saturday night for the same reason — his father couldn't get his result in time. 

"It's like the lottery," said Chen.

He was told his father would receive his result within two days at his local hospital in Richmond Hill to comply with China's requirement of a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to departure. 

Five days later, still no word. 

It's not a cheap fix either. Chen says he's out a few hundred dollars after rescheduling the flight and there's no guarantee that his father will be able to get a test and the corresponding result back in time for his new flight given the province's current backlog. 

"I don't feel good at all. Anxious, stressful, kind of angry," he said. "But where [do] you go? Nobody's going to help you."

Doctor was 'a godsend'

The provincial government's website says those who aren't showing symptoms but require a test to travel internationally are invited to visit an assessment centre or can now make an appointment at select pharmacies — a new strategy introduced by Premier Doug Ford to help alleviate the wait times at hospitals.  

While Chen was forced to rebook another trip for his father, Paul and her sister experienced an unexpected turn of events. 

While waiting outside of the hospital Sunday, a doctor heard Paul's story and came to help the sisters.

The doctor administered a COVID-19 test that produced their result in one hour and allowed them to catch their flight Monday morning. 

"The doctor was a godsend," Paul told CBC Toronto after landing in Grenada on Monday. 

With files from Jessica Cheung