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An Air Canada A321 at LAX (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Air Canada, Toronto Airport Start Trial Program To Ease International Travel Restrictions

The recovery of international air traffic after the demand slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been made very difficult by the persisting limitations to international mobility that are still in place in many countries. Among the Group of Eight countries, Canada is maintaining the most restrictive measures with regards to international travel. A few days ago, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced that measures that were put in place last March have been extended until at least Sept. 30.

However, according to a report from Reuters citing a note from an analyst at investment bank Raymond James, Air Canada will be starting a voluntary COVID-19 passenger test trial on Sept. 7 aimed at easing the travel restrictions for people traveling internationally to and from Canada.

At present, only Canadian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter Canada from another country, and all those entering are subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Air Canada, Westjet and all other Canadian carriers have repeatedly tried to lobby the administration to soften the restriction in order to allow the recovery of international travel, but so far the Canadian government has maintained a very strict approach to managing the country’s borders.

Multiple Rests to Replace Quarantine

This new trial system is going to start after the Labor Day holiday weekend and will see Air Canada cooperate with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) “with the hope that the data collected will convince the government to take more of a science-based approach with the 14-day quarantine requirement waived or reduced for those with successful [negative] tests,” Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth said in the note on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

It is not clear how the testing would work, how they would be administered and with which frequency. However, the note mentions that some of these tests will be performed at home by the travelers between five to 10 days after their arrival via a kit that will be provided to them.

In a survey run by the International Air Transport Association, 83% of respondents said they would decline to travel if a quarantine period is required at their destination or upon their return at their place of residence. Therefore, the imposition of a 14-day quarantine by the Canadian government to all Canadians wishing to travel is almost a travel ban. Consequently, the airline industry is pushing authorities around the world to replace quarantine with a layered approach that requires testing before and after an international flight in order to encourage a recovery in international travel demand.

No comments have been made on the note neither by Air Canada nor by the GTAA or the Canadian government. If confirmed, this solution would be similar to those adopted by some other countries, especially those whose economies heavily rely on tourism and cannot afford to keep their borders shut for many months. A combination of pre-travel testing and a series of post-travel repeat tests with an initial isolation period before the results of the first on-site test are ready appear to be the most common methodology used by tourism-oriented countries looking to restore a meaningful influx of visitors.

Vanni Gibertini
Vanni Gibertini
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