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CBSA officers who dealt with traveller who died of coronavirus back at work

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Global News filmed cities across Canada as the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.

EDITOR’S NOTE: After publication, the union president corrected his previous statement. This story has been updated to report the CBSA officers are back at work.

Three Canadian border officers who were in close contact with a traveller who died of the new coronavirus hours after arriving at Toronto’s Pearson airport are back at work, according to their union.

The Canada Border Services Agency officers were cleared by health officials, the union said. They were all wearing masks, gloves and goggles when they dealt with the woman.

Jean-Pierre Fortin, the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said they were not tested for COVID-19, correcting an earlier statement saying they were awaiting test results.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — How COVID-19 is spreading across Canada

The officers were on duty Saturday when a Markham, Ont. woman arrived on a flight from Los Angeles. She died hours later, according to the York Region health officer.

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A coroner confirmed the death was a result of COVID-19, raising questions about why a traveller so ill was allowed to board a commercial flight and enter Canada upon arrival.

The CBSA has not responded to questions from Global News. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s office said Monday the border agency was “looking into the circumstances of this case.”

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Transport Canada declined to comment on the matter but said all air carriers flying into Canada were required to conduct health checks on all travellers before they boarded.

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That includes asking health questions and looking for visible signs of illness, said Sau Sau Liu, a Transport Canada spokesperson.

“In the event the traveller presents COVID-19 symptoms, the air carrier is required to refuse to board the passenger for travel for a period of 14 days, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms the traveller’s symptoms are not related to COVID-19,” Liu said.

Upon returning to Canada, travellers are supposed to be screened again by officers asking if they have a cough, difficulty breathing or fever. They are then also supposed to self-isolate for two weeks.

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Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told reporters there had been “ongoing and very active communication with the airlines in terms of not letting ill passengers on board planes coming into Canada.”

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“And our CBSA partners are really, really stepping up and making sure that happens. Does that stop some individuals, potentially, even at that moment? I don’t know the circumstances. What if it isn’t COVID 19?”

She said screening was “a massive amount of work” but the numbers of travellers was declining.

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Coronavirus outbreak: York Region announces first COVID-19-related death

The 72-year-old Markham woman had travelled to France and Tahiti before returning to Toronto from Los Angeles, a York Region spokesperson said.

It is unclear how many others may have been exposed during her travels.

“Exposures identified in other health units have been referred to them (Peel and Toronto Public Health),” a York spokesperson said, while “exposures identified for other provinces and other countries have been relayed to Public Health Ontario.”

York Region’s medical officer, Dr. Karim Kurji, told reporters Sunday that “one would have assumed” the woman’s symptoms “might have led to her being detected either in terms of getting into the plane or maybe as she got off here.”

Her symptoms “seem to have included shortness of breath and a cough,” he said. Another official said she was also experiencing muscle and joint pain, “which might have escaped detection.”

The border officers’ union said it had been asking the government for more help at airports and ports of entry.

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“Repeatedly, we’ve been asking for more support from Health Canada,” Fortin said.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca