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Sep 3, 2020

Passengers can now be tested for COVID-19 on arrival at Toronto's Pearson

Air Canada launches COVID-19 study on international travel

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TORONTO -- International travellers arriving at Toronto's Pearson airport can now be tested for COVID-19 as part of a voluntary study to explore the effectiveness of quarantines.

The month-long project, run by McMaster HealthLabs, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority and Air Canada, will see participants provide a sample to researchers in the terminal and two more self-collected samples seven and fourteen days after touchdown.

The samples, obtained via nose and throat swabs, will then be analyzed for COVID-19 at St. Joseph's hospital research institute in Hamilton.

The co-sponsors say participants will be notified electronically within 48 hours of the first results, which will remain confidential and be aggregated for independent data analysis by the University of Toronto's school of public health.

The study, which launched Thursday, comes in advance of a pilot project by WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Vancouver International Airport to test passengers voluntarily for the coronavirus on some departing flights starting later this fall.

The trial studies mark the latest move in a broader push by carriers to show they are serious about combating viral spread as they try to coax Canadians back to the skies.

Dr. Jim Chung, Air Canada's chief medical officer, said in a statement the project "should provide alternatives to the current blanket restrictions and quarantine."

The airline and the Canadian industry have repeatedly criticized the federal government for enforcing a blanket ban on foreign travellers that has hurt its ability to recover from the virus.

Reciprocal bans are not in place for Canadian travellers to many countries and two weeks' self-isolation is required for all travellers arriving in or returning to the country from abroad, regardless of country of origin.

"Our study will provide data to help determine if an airport-based COVID-19 surveillance program is feasible, whether self-collection of COVID-19 testing is effective, and to explore options regarding the 14-day quarantine for international travel," said McMaster HealthLabs CEO John Gilmour.