Published November 23, 2020 by Ichor Blood Services

The COVID-19 pilot program for international travellers at the Calgary International Airport and Coutts border crossing is well underway. But the question remains, will the pilot do more harm than good? 

Nearly 2,000 people have already taken part in the COVID-19 pilot program for international travellers at the Calgary International Airport and Coutts border crossing. The pilot sees those who enter the country at either point avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine period if they choose to enrol in the program If chosen to enroll in, the program requires they receive a PCR swab test to rule out an active infection and self-isolate for 24 to 48 hours until they receive their results. 

Once the international traveller is confirmed as negative for COVID-19, they are allowed to leave self-isolation under the condition that they get another test within six to seven days. They must also remain in Alberta for 14 days and complete daily symptom checks as part of the requirements. 

While the pilot is being heralded as a way to open up international travel again, which would provide a much-needed lifeline for the beleaguered industry, one infectious disease expert is worried that the program may do more harm than good.

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Infectious Disease Expert 'Quite Nervous' About COVID-19 Pilot

University of Calgary infectious disease expert Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson says the new COVID-19 pilot at the Calgary International Airport and Coutts border crossing makes her "quite nervous." She cites the long list of rules international travellers must adhere to and the incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 as the primary reasons for her concern. 

"We have seen time and time again, up to 14 days from an exposure someone could acquire and develop symptoms of coronavirus," said Meier-Stephenson in conversation with CTV Calgary's Mark Villani recently. Given that international travellers are only required to be tested twice — once upon arrival and again six to seven days from then — that leaves roughly four to five days during which the COVID-19 incubation period is still in play.

Should an international traveller be exposed to COVID-19 a day or two before arriving in the province at either entry point, they could hypothetically be capable of transmitting the virus a few days after their second PCR swab test for an active infection is completed. Then it would be up to them to report their symptoms if they do indeed have any, and if they're asymptomatic, they would unwittingly become an exposure risk to those they come across in Alberta. 


A Lifeline for an Industry Brought to Its Knees by COVID-19

There's no denying the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the international travel industry and the sectors connected to it. Air Canada posted a $1.7 billion loss in its most recent quarterly report, losing almost $20 million a day in April, May, and June. WestJet, meanwhile, permanently laid off more than 3,000 of its staff back in June. For airlines and every business connected to them, the COVID-19 pilot program at YYC and the Coutts border crossing is undoubtedly welcome news.

But will it come at the cost of the public health of Albertans? Time will tell. And until we can get our daily case rate back down to the single digits, any COVID-19 spread by international travellers is likely to remain a drop in the ocean. But perhaps an avoidable drop nonetheless.


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If you need COVID-19 PCR swab testing to identify or rule out an active infection or antibody testing to detect a past one, Ichor Blood Services has you covered. For more information about the COVID-19 tests we offer in Calgary, Edmonton, Fredericton, and Niagara Falls, please give us a call at 1-844-424-6728 or fill out our contact form


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