New measures are being implemented at the Calgary and Edmonton airports, as well as at the Coutts land border crossing, to prevent the spread of travel-related COVID-19 cases.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Wednesday that additional screening measures will be implemented to strengthen protections at Alberta’s international airports, in hopes of further reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus as Alberta’s relaunch plan continues to roll out.
“International travel obviously played a key role in the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Kenney said. “The first cases in this province came from international travel.
“Given that airports and border crossings remain a high-risk vector for transmission, and at the same time a crucial part of the infrastructure we need to get our economy moving, we need to do more. We need to do more especially as we move towards relaunch.”
Effective immediately, Kenney said anyone returning to the Calgary or Edmonton airports from outside Canada will have to pass through a provincial checkpoint where they will have a thermal temperature check done, as an elevated temperature is a potential symptom of COVID-19.
Travellers will also be required to detail their 14-day self-isolation plan, which must outline how they will get to their self-isolation location, how they will get groceries and medications delivered to them and who specifically — family or friends — will support them as they self-isolate.
This screening will happen after travellers have cleared customs and COVID-19 screening by the Canada Border Services Agency.
The province will provide accommodations and access to support to those who do not have an adequate self-isolation plan in place, Kenney said.
The Calgary and Edmonton airports are also implementing enhanced cleaning protocols for arrival lounges and high-touch surfaces, placing hand sanitizer stations at every kiosk and touch screen machine.
While international travel has drastically decreased over the past couple of months, Kenney said there are still about 400 people per week arriving at Alberta’s airports from outside the country, the majority of whom are arriving at the Calgary International Airport.
A spokesperson with the Edmonton International Airport said Wednesday they are currently averaging fewer than 20 international travellers per day, with passengers only arriving from Minneapolis.
“Safety and security must be top priority at EIA so we are happy to provide the space and to assist the province with their new screening measures,” Christopher Chodan said. “EIA has already enhanced our cleaning of areas transited by travellers and added additional hand sanitzers. Social distancing measures have also been enacted in the terminal.”
Phase 2 of the province’s additional travel screening plan, which is set to roll out in a couple of weeks, will see similar screening measures set up at the Alberta-U.S. land border crossing at Coutts, which is the busiest in the province. Kenney said about 90 per cent of land travellers enter and exit Alberta through this border crossing.
The provincial checkpoint at Coutts will be located just north of the CBSA screening area, Kenney said.
The screening at the airports and Coutts border crossing will be done by members of Alberta Health Services. People found to have a temperature through the initial thermal scan will be required to go through a second temperature check with a touchless thermometer, according to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
“If somebody is found to have any of the key symptoms of COVID… Then it will be part of the discussion to make sure they have a safe way to get home or isolation and if they don’t have a way to get home or isolation without potentially exposing others, that would be where the quarantine locations would come in,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. “And also to make sure that they have access to testing wherever they are, if they are going to their home or if they’re going to be staying at that location at the airport.”
Within three days of returning to Alberta, Kenney said all international travellers will receive a follow-up phone call from a provincial official to ensure they have everything they need to self-isolate for two weeks.
“Our new measures align with the federal government’s emergency order under the quarantine act, requiring people entering Canada to province their plan for self-isolation for 14 days,” Kenney said, adding he wants to ensure Alberta has the strongest screening protocols possible to keep residents safe.
“Countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have been successful at mitigating the spread because they took immediate action securing their borders long before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic,” Kenney said.
“I’ve been clear it was irresponsible for Canada to wait so long to close our borders, especially from countries with high levels of infection. While Alberta does not control who can fly here, we will deploy a more rigorous approach in screening international arrivals. These measures are critical to ensure we continue to flatten the curve and keep Albertans safe.”
When asked if the province considered implementing similar screening measures at provincial border crossings, Kenney said it has been considered but added “we decided not to institute such measures as we don’t believe they are necessary.”
“We do not see a compelling reason why we would do that,” Kenney said, adding he has spoken with the premiers of Saskatchewan and British Columbia who are aligned with that decision.
A global travel advisory against non-essential travel outside Canada remains in effect until further notice. Inter-provincial travel is also not recommended.
“One of the reasons we’re taking these measures today is this: Albertans have made enormous sacrifices, there’s been huge economic pain, some people’s lives have been turned upside down, we’ve made enormous gains in combating it, bringing the curve back down, keeping that capacity in our health-care system,” the premier stressed.
“I just don’t want to see those sacrifices wasted or those gains lost by not taking every necessary precaution at the borders for international arrivals.”
Kenney said the program will cost about $800,000 through Aug. 31, and will include funding for hotel rooms and per diems for travellers who do not have adequate self-isolation supports.
Kenney said the cost is based off a similar program in B.C., which has seen about one per cent of returning international travellers receive support.
“It will be many months before we can expect effective anti-viral treatments or a vaccine that ends the threat of COVID-19,” Kenney said.
“In the meantime, the new normal will involve protective protocols like the ones we are introducing today.”
The announcement comes one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada and the United States have agreed to extend the closure of their shared border to non-essential travel for another 30 days, until June 21.
“This is an important decision that will keep people in both of our countries safe,” the prime minister said Tuesday during his daily address in Ottawa about Canada’s response to COVID-19.