Mississauga’s Pearson Airport and two airlines push Ottawa to stop COVID-19 tests at airports

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Published January 17, 2022 at 4:07 pm

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Pearson Airport in Mississauga, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines are pushing the federal government to stop testing travellers for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport and instead send the scarce resources where they’re needed most.

Chief medical officers of health for the three organizations are calling on Ottawa to shift PCR testing from Pearson and other Canadian airports to communities hugely lacking in such testing capabilities and where the new Omicron variant is surging.


“As every person travelling to Canada must take a PCR test prior to getting on a plane inbound to Canada and must be fully vaccinated, there is no good public health rationale for a second test upon arrival (in Canada),” the medical officers wrote in an open letter to Ottawa.

“We know that the primary concern for Omicron is in the community. By extension, the primary need for testing is in our community, not at our airports. Now is the time to act.”

Pearson, Air Canada and WestJet are urging the federal government to work with Ontario to implement the following measures immediately to support the healthcare system and communities:

  • remove mandatory arrivals testing from airports and shift scarce resources to schools, community and healthcare system
  • revert to surveillance arrival testing of international air passengers
  • require mandatory isolation for persons arriving from an international location if they are exhibiting symptoms or test positive on a surveillance test. Travellers who are asymptomatic after receiving their negative pre-departure test before travel to Canada should not be required to isolate

“Over the last two months, Omicron has quickly become the predominant variant of COVID-19,” the open letter reads. “As it spreads throughout our communities, we need to ensure Canada’s limited testing resources are being used where Canadians need them most—to support our communities, schools, hospitals and long-term care homes.”

The letter goes on to note that there’s a growing discrepancy between resources allocated to asymptomatic travellers and to those who need it most.

“In the most recent week of reported data, over 123,000 PCR tests were conducted at Canada’s airports with an average positivity rate of three per cent. Meanwhile, the positivity rate in our communities is now approximately 30 per cent and could be higher due to the under-reporting of positivity from a lack of tests.”

The open letter, sent to federal and provincial health ministers and the top public health officials in Ontario and Canada, concludes with a final call to action.

“Collectively, our organizations have worked hard to keep travel safe, and we have achieved a positivity rate that is 10 times less than community spread. Now is the time to shift testing resources to where they’re needed most. Removing arrivals PCR testing from Pearson alone would free up 8,000 tests a day for the GTA, which will help keep our most vulnerable—those in long-term care, hospitals and our children attending school—safe.

“Now is the time to put scarce testing resources where Canadians need them most: in our communities and not in our airports.”

Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos responded this afternoon, and didn’t seem overly impressed with the letter.

He noted that it’s Ottawa’s responsibility to protect Canadian borders, and that’s what PCR testing at the airports does.

Furthermore, Duclos said, the specific resources being used at airports to conduct tests are different from resources most needed in communities.

The test mandate for all travellers, except those from the U.S., arriving at Pearson and other Canadian airports has been in place for just over a month.

Since then, health and airport officials have struggled greatly to ramp up testing numbers and have faced lab processing capacity issues as well.

 

 

 

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