Alberta will host rapid COVID-19 testing pilot of international travellers

Quarantine fix a relief

UPDATED: 12:45 p.m.

Kelowna International Airport director Sam Samaddar says he is very pleased with the news Calgary will be hosting a rapid COVID-19 test pilot project next month.

"It's something as an industry that we've been pushing for for some time," says Samaddar.

"If you look at travel in Canada, 50 per cent of our traffic is actually international travels, so we've been decimated as an industry, and we've been looking for alternatives to the 14 day quarantine on arrival so having this pilot project is wonderful news."

There are other jurisdictions around the world already working with this or a similar system, he says, including Hawaii where travellers can enter the community freely after confirming a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. 

Samaddar says although it won't change much for YLW right now, it's a project they would love to see in the future.

He's hoping the success of this pilot will lead to greater expansion across the country in due course. 

"The important thing with these pilot projects is they're actually collecting data on the number of people, the transactions, how many people actually tested positive and those kinds of things so that helps the public health agency as well, whether it's provincially or federally. With these pilot projects you can then fine-tune them and then apply them more broadly across the country." 

Samaddar also noted it is important for travellers wishing to come to B.C. to note this project is restricted to Alberta. Travellers arriving through Calgary International Airport must remain in Alberta for 14 days post-arrival, even if they test negative for the virus and are able to leave quarantine early. 

ORIGINAL: 11:30 a.m.

Calgary International Airport and the Coutts border crossing will be the first in Canada to implement a rapid COVID-19 testing pilot project, replacing the mandatory 14-day quarantine for international travellers.

The Alberta government will host the pilot in partnership with the federal government and airline industry, reports CTV News.

International travellers will receive a COVID-19 test when they enter Canada, before going into quarantine.

If and when the test comes back negative, those travellers will be able to leave quarantine and resume normal life, on the condition they take another test six or seven days after their initial arrival. 

However, travellers will need to remain in Alberta for 14 days after arrival, must wear masks in public places, and will need to undergo daily symptom checks.

“YYC Calgary International Airport is proud to be the first and only airport in Canada to have a government-approved testing pilot for arriving international passengers—which we hope will lead to reducing and one day eliminating the current 14-day self-isolation requirements. This innovative testing is the lifeline our airport and airline partners need to instil confidence in air travel,” says Bob Sartor, Calgary Airport Authority president and CEO. 

“Today’s announcement brings hope for a brighter tomorrow. A new era of travel is upon us, and all of us here at The Calgary Airport Authority look forward to helping pave the way forward."

The pilot, which starts Nov. 2, will begin in just two locations but is expected to expand to other airports in Canada if successful. 

"This is an important step in Alberta’s Recovery Plan. This new pilot program will allow those who need to travel for work to have a safe path to a shorter quarantine period," says Premier Jason Kenney, speaking via phone from where he is self-isolating, after exposure to a positive COVID-19 case.

The pilot project is available for Canadian citizens, permanent residents or foreign nationals permitted entry into Canada and who have no symptoms.

It is a voluntary project and not enforced on travellers, but those who choose not to participate will be required to complete the full 14 day quarantine period.

WestJet Airlines chief executive Ed Sims says the pilot is the "first bit of good news" the airline has received since February. 

"WestJet has been advocating for a science-based rapid testing solution to help safely ease the quarantine requirements."

Castanet has reached out to Kelowna International Airport for comment. 

- With files from CTV News

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