How valuable is random COVID testing of travellers?

By The Canadian Press and Hana Mae Nassar

Just how valuable is it to randomly test travellers arriving in Canada for COVID-19?

Some experts don’t see eye-to-eye.

Canada Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has called the test an early warning system for variants of COVID-19 as they enter this country.

However, infectious diseases physician Dr. Zain Chagla says there are more efficient ways to watch for variants, like testing wastewater samples at airports, that don’t inconvenience travellers or contribute to travel delays.

The federal government relaunched its mandatory random testing for fully vaccinated travellers arriving at four major airports — Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary — as of Tuesday, July 19.

This came after Canada paused that requirement in June after long customs delays caused chaos at the country’s airports.

One change this time around, however, is that travellers who are randomly selected will be tested at off-site locations or pick up a self-swab kit.

“As we have said all along, Canada’s border measures will remain flexible and adaptable, guided by science and prudence. We need to keep border testing measures in place because that is how we track importation of the COVID-19 virus, and of new variants of concern,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos previously said. “We will keep adapting our border measures to balance the need to protect Canadians while supporting our economic recovery.”

The federal government has said that moving testing procedures outside of airports will help the country “monitor and quickly respond to new variants of concern, or changes to the epidemiological situation.”

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People who don’t qualify as fully vaccinated must still complete Day 1 and Day 8 testing as part of a 14-day mandatory quarantine, unless they have an exemption.

Health Canada said earlier this month that travellers arriving at the four aforementioned airports and who are randomly selected for testing will receive an email within 15 minutes of clearing customs. That email will contain information about the steps they are required to take as part of the border measure.

Anyone whose test comes back positive is required to follow the federal requirement to isolate for 10 days from their date of arrival. This is regardless of what COVID-19 requirements are in your province or territory.

Mandatory random testing of arrivals at the land border remains unchanged. Use of the ArriveCAN app also remains mandatory.

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