Pilot COVID-19 testing at Alberta border could reduce 14-day quarantine period to 48 hours if traveller tests negative

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced an upcoming pilot project at two border crossings in Alberta where international travellers coming to Canada by land or air may choose to be tested for COVID-19 at the border, which would cut the mandatory self-isolation period from 14 days to about 48 hours, given the test comes back negative. The pilot is a joint project between the province of Alberta and the government of Canada.

The voluntary pilot testing option, a first of its kind in Canada and an important step in facilitating international travel, will be offered starting November 2 at the Coutts land border crossing in southern Alberta and the Calgary International Airport. All travellers who decide not to participate in the pilot are still subject to the standard 14-day quarantine.

It is expected the pilot will be used by Canadian citizens returning to Canada through the province of Alberta and by foreign workers deemed “essential” — truckers, those working in health care and other workers exempt from the imposed federal travel ban.

Once the test proves negative, travellers will be permitted to end their quarantine, providing they follow up with a second test in 4-5 days at a community pharmacy taking part in the pilot program.

Some local medical professionals, while supporting the idea of testing to reduce the quarantine period, are voicing their concerns about using the pilot at the Canada–US border, given the huge infection rates and lack of safe precautions south of the border. However, participants will be further monitored closely for symptoms and will be required to commit to following strict preventive health measures, such as wearing masks in public and avoiding high-risk behaviour. 

Kenney further noted that the pilot project will be expanded to Edmonton International airport early next year if it tests well in Calgary. It is not clear when it will be rolled out to the rest of Canada.

Calgary Airport Authority president Bob Sartor called this trial an “innovative, government-approved, science-based testing trial” and a “lifeline that airports and airline partners need to instill confidence in air travel once again.” Calgary-based airline WestJet, which had to cancel its routes to Atlantic Canada under the weight of the pandemic and 95% business loss, is also anxiously looking forward to its success. 

The number of COVID-19 cases is rapidly rising in Alberta again, but Premier Kenney confirmed Thursday that the Alberta government has so far been quite successful at keeping public restrictions to the minimum while managing to achieve impressive results, and the province plans to keep it that way in order to avoid shutting down the hospitality industry. He further said that the dual goal of the provincial government is to “protect both lives and livelihoods” in Alberta, especially at a time when the economy is being impacted by the energy price collapse. 

It is important to note that the pilot program, while a definite step forward to ease restrictions for many foreign workers and their employers, only applies to Canadian residents and foreign nationals who are already allowed to come to Canada.
“There are no changes now at the border to be clear,” said the Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu. 

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