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Edmonton International Airport to pilot rapid-response COVID-19 saliva test

Click to play video 'Edmonton International Airport to pilot rapid-response COVID-19 saliva test' Edmonton International Airport to pilot rapid-response COVID-19 saliva test
The Edmonton International Airport is working with a local company to trial a new COVID-19 test that promises to produce results in seconds. Fletcher Kent explains how it works.

The Edmonton International Airport is working with a local company on a pilot program to trial a new COVID-19 test that the company says can produce results in seconds.

EIA said it has been selected as the exclusive location to host clinical trials of a coronavirus test that uses a saliva sample from a person and produces a positive or negative result in less than one minute.

Read more: Saliva tests could make spotting coronavirus easier: expert

The airport hopes the rapid-result test will address the need for a 14-day quarantine period, which is currently in place for any traveller entering the country from outside Canada.

“We all want travel to get back to normal and a rapid COVID-19 test will accelerate this return while enhancing passenger confidence in the safety of our industry,” said EIA president and CEP Tom Ruth in a news release Thursday.

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“While we have seen some growth in recent months, our passenger numbers during COVID-19 continue to remain low and a test like this is crucial to our future.”

The airport is working with GLC Medical Inc. — located in the Edmonton Research Park — on the trial, which does not yet have a scheduled start date. Details are still being worked out in terms of whether the test would be offered before passengers board their flight, after they get off a flight or both.

The EIA said it’s all about offering safety and security to passengers.

“Confidence to travel, having comfort, right? People want comfort to travel,” said Myron Keehn, vice president of air service and commercial development with EIA.

“The airlines are calling internationally, globally for rapid, non-lab-based COVID testing as a way to provide comfort and open up the economy. And it has to be done globally, but each area has a role to play in that so we’re hopeful this is a tool in that toolbox we can use.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Majority of Canadians not comfortable flying since seat distancing axed, poll says

The medical company said its saliva test is still undergoing clinical testing as part of the regulatory approval process, but initial evaluations are promising. The way it works is the person being tested provides a saliva sample into a testing unit. A graphene surface inside the unit then bonds to the spike protein in the virus, the company explained.

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Within one minute, the device will show either a red or green light to indicate if the person is virus-free. GLC Medical said the test does not need to be administered by a medical professional.

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“We are very excited to offer the world a graphene-enhanced rapid solution in COVID-19 virus detection,” said Donna Mandau, president and CEO of GLC Medical, in a news release.

“The opportunity to collaborate with EIA, a world-respected airport authority, to enable travel and to bring families back together is very rewarding for us.”

Read more: Canada adds 1,085 new coronavirus cases as Trudeau warns of second wave

Last week, British Columbia’s provincial health officer announced the province is rolling out a new mouth rinse/gargle test for people ages four to 18.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the test involves swishing and gargling a sterile saltwater solution, then spitting it into a collection tube. The plan is to eventually make the new test available for everyone.

Read more: So long swabs: B.C. unveils new mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health was asked about the saliva test during a COVID-19 briefing last week and said Alberta Health is working with the lab on options such as the mouth rinse and self-saliva sample.

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“There are different elements that need to be put in place before that can be used broadly,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Sept. 18.

“We need to make sure that that methodology will work with the way that our lab runs tests. We need to make sure that we have adequate collection containers, all of those different pieces because, of course, all of the hardware and infrastructure that goes along with a new sample methodology needs to be validated to make sure that it does provide an accurate result and that work is underway in Alberta but I don’t have a timeline as to when it might be able to be moved forward.”

Click to play video 'Alberta working with lab to look at mouth rinse and saliva COVID-19 tests' Alberta working with lab to look at mouth rinse and saliva COVID-19 tests
Alberta working with lab to look at mouth rinse and saliva COVID-19 tests

The EIA said the next step is to bring the company into the airport and establish a safe and secure test site. The clinical trial is expected to start at the airport some time this fall and last several weeks.

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GLC Medical hopes to have regulatory approval for the test by the new year.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she understands the growing attention being focused on rapid coronavirus tests, but warned that any intervention by the federal government to help speed up the approval process could result in some of the “dangerous consequences” being seen elsewhere in the world.

“I am pretty sure that I can say that there is no one in Canada who is more enthusiastic about the prospect of getting rapid tests in our country and no one who feels more urgently the need for them,” Freeland said.

“Having said that, I think it’s also very important for us to appreciate how valuable it is to live in a country where we respect the independence of our regulatory authorities.”

Read more: Political intervention over rapid test demands would be ‘dangerous’: Freeland

In late July, global credit rating business DBRS Ltd. suggested passenger volumes at EIA will likely not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

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