covid flights canada

Flights in Canada keep reporting COVID-19 cases and something needs to be done

Passengers on board 14 domestic flights and 23 international flights were potentially exposed to COVID-19 over the past two weeks. 

The latest official figures are a cause for concern for many Canadians who feel that airlines and travel authorities are not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus.

“Long before there was community spread, COVID-19 was coming into the country on airplanes,” said Troy Winters, senior health and safety officer at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents thousands of flight attendants in Canada. 

“We were quite concerned, right from the get go," he added, speaking to CTV News.

Although the border has been closed to most non-Canadians since March 18, the number of people landing at Canada's airports while carrying the virus remains startling.

Flights arriving from outside of the country are only allowed to land at four airports – those in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

The only people who are allowed to fly into the country at present are Canadian citizens and permanent residents, diplomats and air crews and the immediate family of citizens.

Exemptions are also in place for temporary foreign workers, some students and others whose purpose for being in Canada is deemed to be essential. 

Everyone entering the country must self-isolate for 14 days. Not doing so is a violation of the Quarantine Act, carrying a maximum penalty of a $750,000 fine and six months in jail.

Despite these measures, the Public Health Agency of Canada has informed the RCMP of more than 21,000 cases of passengers who have broken quarantine rules. Nearly 1,500 of those cases were identified as "priority cases" for physical check-ups.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, temperature checks were introduced at Canada's four biggest airports for international passengers at the end of June. 

Passengers will now also be screened before they can board a flight travelling within Canada. 

Since July, domestic passengers travelling through Vancouver International, Toronto Pearson, Calgary International and Montreal-Trudeau International airports will now also have their temperatures checked. 

Temperature screening stations will be placed in the departures section of the airports, according to Transport Canada.

By September, temperature screening stations will be in place in the next 11 busiest airports in Canada (St. John’s, Halifax, Québec City, Ottawa, Toronto – Billy Bishop, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Kelowna, Victoria).

All passengers who have an elevated temperature and do not have a medical certificate to explain a medical or physical condition that would result in an elevated temperature, will not be permitted to continue their travel and will be asked to re-book after 14 days.

“We have already introduced measures to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19, including mandating face coverings, and publishing health guidance for the air industry," said Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau.

"Mandatory temperature screenings are yet another measure in our multi-layered approach to help protect the safety of the travelling public and air industry workers.”

Another method that may soon be utilized by airlines to stop people boarding while carrying the virus is rapid COVID-19 testing. 

Air Canada is currently working with Spartan Bioscience Inc., an Ottawa-based biotechnology leader in portable DNA testing technology.

Spartan is currently developing a proprietary swab for the collection of DNA samples for a COVID-19 test.  They have also created a portable DNA analyzer device called the Spartan Cube.

According to the company's website, the Spartan Cube goes from sample to result in less than one hour.

Spartan claims their technology would be "ideal" for the fast and portable detection of COVID-19 because it can be deployed in settings such as "airports, cruise ships, military bases, and other critical points of entry."

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, suggested airlines should consider a passengers’ underlying health conditions and other circumstances when assigning seats, adding that physical distancing of two metres should be maintained whenever possible.

Lead photo by

Shai Barzilay

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