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Airlines slam 'confusion' of new COVID-19 testing rules – BNN

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OTTAWA – Airlines and travellers say a slew of questions remain about the federal government’s decision to require passengers returning to Canada to show negative results on COVID-19 tests taken abroad.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced last Thursday that air travellers overseas will have to present proof of a negative molecular test – known as a PCR test, conducted with nose and throat swabs – that was taken within 72 hours of departure, unless such testing is unavailable.

The Transport Department has yet to provide a list of foreign agencies whose tests are considered acceptable or to establish how airline employees should determine whether a test certificate is valid, said National Airlines Council of Canada chief executive Mike McNaney.

“With less than a week to implement, we do not have the interim orders in writing – it’s from the interim orders that you base your operations and obligations,” he said.

McNaney said the new rule, which mandates a 14-day quarantine in Canada regardless of the test result, will cause uncertainty and “frustration” for carriers and passengers alike.

“We’re very concerned about the confusion that’s going to occur and the disjointedness of implementation that’s going occur. And it all could have been avoided,” he said.

Air Transat vice-president Christophe Hennebelle says Ottawa announced the requirement, which takes effect this Thursday, without any prior consultation.

“It kind of came out of the blue … We had no advance notice,” he said.

“We feel that all that is a bit improvised … and basically the feeling we have behind that is that the government wants to stop travel but does not say it.”

Transport Canada did not immediately respond to questions Monday.

Garneau said last week the Jan. 7 start date was designed to provide airlines with enough time to comply with the new rules, and that the government will try to provide information on where testing is available abroad.

His announcement comes as a devastated airline sector continues to bleed cash following a collapse in demand caused by the pandemic.

It also arrives amid growing criticism of the federal sick-leave benefit that pays $500 per week for up to two weeks to Canadians quarantined after touching down from abroad, including after vacations.

Some federal and provincial politicians are among those who chose to travel beyond Canada’s borders over the holidays, despite public health recommendations against non-essential travel.

As of 12:01 a.m. Thursday, passengers returning from countries where PCR testing is “unavailable” will be required to stay at a “designated quarantine facility” for two weeks upon arrival in Canada, rather than at home the way test-toting passengers can, according to Transport Canada.

Whether “unavailable” means non-existent or simply hard to access is unclear, as is how passengers can prove the tests’ unavailability to a customer service agent at a check-in counter.

Co-ordinating a test with takeoff presents another potential hurdle.

For the past several months, major Canadian airlines have cancelled the majority of their flights several weeks in advance due to a lack of ticket purchases. That passengers often find their flights rescheduled for days later, rendering any test taken 48 hours before the initially planned departure invalid for the rebooked flight.

“We have to scramble around. If the flight has changed it makes it worse, especially if we took the test,” said Perry Cohen, a 74-year-old Torontonian who spends roughly half the year in Florida.

“That’s not right. That’s not fair. It’s just going to aggravate people, and they’ve got enough stress with COVID. They don’t need this on their heads,” he said from a retirement community in Deerfield Beach, Fla., about 65 kilometres north of Miami.

“The 7th is not far away. And they didn’t even set the rules to the game yet.”

Airlines had hoped for a testing framework that would cut down quarantine times, modelled after pilot projects launched last year.

One ongoing program tests Canadians voluntarily on arrival at the Calgary airport, with mandatory self-quarantine for up to 48 hours. If the results of that COVID-19 test are negative, participants can leave, but must monitor their symptoms until a second swab six or seven days after touchdown.

Many countries rely on testing to curtail quarantines.

“If you get to Finland, which has very good results in the control of the pandemic, you get rapid testing at the airport and then you take a second test a few days later, and if both tests are negative then you can snap out of the quarantine. That makes sense,” Hennebelle said.

Under two per cent of all coronavirus cases reported in Canada stem from foreign travel, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Nonetheless, fears around increasingly infectious strains of the virus identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa have rekindled fears around the risks of international travel.

Travel insurance will not cover the cost of a COVID-19 test abroad, said Marty Firestone, president of Toronto-based Travel Secure Inc.

“Absolutely not, it’s not an unexpected medical emergency, and it won’t,” he said.

“From an insurance perspective, say my insurance is expiring tonight at 12:01, what do I do if I can’t get on that plane because my test results aren’t accepted?” he asked.

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Ontario must cut COVID-19 cases to 1,000 daily to lift lockdowns, medical officer says – Global News

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TORONTO — COVID-19 cases in Ontario must fall below 1,000 per day before lockdown measures can be lifted, the province’s top doctor said Monday as he expressed cautious optimism that infection rates may have plateaued.

Dr. David Williams said while the province’s virus rates remain high – with 2,578 new cases reported Monday – he thinks the impact of a provincewide lockdown that started on Boxing Day is beginning to emerge.

Read more:
Toronto COVID-19 vaccination clinic pausing after 5 days due to supply issues

Williams said Ontario’s seven-day case average has dropped to just over 3,000 cases he said, down from the mid-3,000s in recent weeks.

He said he would like to see the province’s new daily case counts move to levels last seen in late October before any pandemic measures are relaxed.

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“It is achievable, we can get back there,” Williams said. “I take that as a sign that Ontarians … are making headway.”

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Williams said he would also like to see the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units drop to 150 – from 395 reported Monday – before ending the lockdown.

[embedded content]

“If you get below 150 COVID patients in ICU beds that starts to get you back down to where all the hospitals can start to do their other elective procedures,” he said.

Williams said while people must continue to stay-at-home and follow public health rules, the latest numbers show that Ontario’s per cent positivity has not risen in recent days.

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His comments come less than a week after the province was plunged into its second state of emergency during the pandemic and Premier Doug Ford’s government imposed a stay-at-home order.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Ontario must cut COVID-19 cases to 1,000 daily to lift lockdowns, medical officer says – Global News

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TORONTO — COVID-19 cases in Ontario must fall below 1,000 per day before lockdown measures can be lifted, the province’s top doctor said Monday as he expressed cautious optimism that infection rates may have plateaued.

Dr. David Williams said while the province’s virus rates remain high – with 2,578 new cases reported Monday – he thinks the impact of a provincewide lockdown that started on Boxing Day is beginning to emerge.

Read more:
Toronto COVID-19 vaccination clinic pausing after 5 days due to supply issues

Williams said Ontario’s seven-day case average has dropped to just over 3,000 cases he said, down from the mid-3,000s in recent weeks.

He said he would like to see the province’s new daily case counts move to levels last seen in late October before any pandemic measures are relaxed.

Story continues below advertisement

“It is achievable, we can get back there,” Williams said. “I take that as a sign that Ontarians … are making headway.”

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Williams said he would also like to see the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units drop to 150 – from 395 reported Monday – before ending the lockdown.

[embedded content]

“If you get below 150 COVID patients in ICU beds that starts to get you back down to where all the hospitals can start to do their other elective procedures,” he said.

Williams said while people must continue to stay-at-home and follow public health rules, the latest numbers show that Ontario’s per cent positivity has not risen in recent days.

Story continues below advertisement

His comments come less than a week after the province was plunged into its second state of emergency during the pandemic and Premier Doug Ford’s government imposed a stay-at-home order.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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B.C. focuses on second doses of COVID-19 vaccine after Pfizer delay: top doctor – News 1130

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VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C. is still on track to vaccinate the most vulnerable people despite a reduction in deliveries from Pfizer, the provincial health officer says.

Dr. Bonnie Henry explained the supply issue will have the biggest impact over the next week after which deliveries of vaccines will start to pick up again.

She said this will slow down getting the shots to some hospitals, but the province will continue on schedule for giving the first dose to those most at-risk.

“We have, however, been able to rearrange and look at the process that we have to make sure that we are continuing with providing the first of two doses to those at highest risk, and that we are able to start second doses at day 35, in accordance to our plans that we announced a few weeks ago,” she said during Monday’s briefing.

“It is a bit of a setback, but it is only a delay.”

RELATED: COVID-19 outbreak at Port Moody care facility

She said the province expects to receive extra doses at the end of February and into early March, when it will look at expanding its program.

Until then, the plan is still to give people their second dose before focusing on getting others their first dose.

Henry added 87,346 people have received a COVID-19 shot since immunizations started.

She stressed that while immunizations are underway, the risk remains high across the province as transmission continues.

Since Friday, 31 people lost their lives to the virus, with the deaths in every health authority. The total since the start of the pandemic climbed to 1,078.

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Another 1,330 infections were reported over the weekend.

There was also a jump in cases in non-resident Canadians, which Henry explained is mostly farmworkers coming for the season. Henry noted there are quarantine accommodations.

She again said the arrival of coronavirus mutations requires caution and following health measures.

“The biggest risk and the biggest variants we have right now is all of us, our human behaviour, the choices that we make every day,” she said.

Henry added the investigation is ongoing after someone tested for the South African variant in B.C. without knowing how they contracted it.

RELATED: South African COVID-19 variant not immune to vaccines but source of B.C.’s first case remains a mystery

Health Minister Adrian Dix noted it has been almost a year since the first COVID-19 joint release from the province, noting it hasn’t been easy.

“We’ve seen through the course of the pandemic a lot of worry, a lot of fear, a lot of loss, a lot of uncertainty. While COVID-19 gives each of us every reason to experience those feelings, each and every day, I also saw from that day something else, something reassuring – resolve, spirit, strength compassion, and well fear and uncertainty. I think are part of every day in a pandemic. What has kept us going to seeing how British Columbians in every part of our province refuse to let fear and uncertainty rule,” he said.

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