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Alberta introduces COVID-19 pilot project that could reduce quarantine times for international travel

Click to play video 'Pilot project aims to reduce quarantine time for international travellers to Alberta' Pilot project aims to reduce quarantine time for international travellers to Alberta
WATCH: The province of Alberta has announced COVID-19 testing for international travellers entering Alberta as part of a pilot project aimed at reducing quarantine time. Gil Tucker reports. – Oct 22, 2020

Starting in November, some travellers coming to Alberta from international destinations will be able to opt in for a COVID-19 test when they enter Canada that could reduce the time they are expected to quarantine.

Canada requires people to quarantine for 14 days upon entry to the country in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Read more: Stigma of COVID-19 left Alberta ‘long hauler’ and her family feeling ostracized

The test would be administered at the Calgary International Airport as well the Coutts land border crossing. Once the test is administered, the person would continue into quarantine. If a negative result is received, the traveller would be allowed to leave quarantine provided they get another test between days six and seven.

Click to play video 'COVID-19 travel pilot program to reduce 2-week quarantine time being tested in Alberta' COVID-19 travel pilot program to reduce 2-week quarantine time being tested in Alberta
COVID-19 travel pilot program to reduce 2-week quarantine time being tested in Alberta – Oct 22, 2020

“The reason for that is the same reason I’m under isolation right now is that the virus can take some time to develop and become detectable,” Premier Jason Kenney said via telephone on Thursday.

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Kenney went into isolation after Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard received a positive test result Wednesday.

He received a negative test result Wednesday evening.

“It’s not an overstatement to say today’s announcement is actually the first piece of good news we have received as an airline since February the 29th,” Ed Sims the president and CEO of WestJet said.

Read more: Alberta premier tests negative for COVID-19, will still self-isolate after minister tests positive

Travellers taking part in this pilot project will be closely monitored, Kenney said, and will be expected to take part in daily check ins. They will also have to follow other preventative measures like wearing a mask in public places and will be required to stay in the province of Alberta for the full 14 days.

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They would also not be allowed to visit high-risk settings where the vulnerable population may live.

Click to play video 'WestJet to refund some passengers whose flights were cancelled due to COVID-19' WestJet to refund some passengers whose flights were cancelled due to COVID-19
WestJet to refund some passengers whose flights were cancelled due to COVID-19 – Oct 22, 2020

If anyone participating in this pilot began showing symptoms, the traveller would be required to isolate and contact Alberta Health Services immediately.

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“This is an announcement that I’ve been waiting for and that we have all been waiting for for months,” Bob Sartor, president and CEO of the Calgary Airport Authority said.

“We really hope that this pilot will help in reducing and one day eliminating the 14-day self-isolation requirements that have so crippled our nation.”

While the program is just available at the two locations to start, Kenney said there are plans to expand it to the Edmonton International Airport as well.

“All of this is based on the approval and cooperation of the government of Canada and I think, understandably, they wanted to start it on a limited basis,” Kenney said.

Read more: Canada kicked off EU’s safe country list due to high number of coronavirus cases

EIA stopped receiving international flights on March 16 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced only four airports in Canada would continue to receive those flights.

Kenney said if all goes well at the Calgary airport and Coutts, the hope is to have the pilot project expanded to Edmonton in February.

“The results will help shape future provincial and federal policy and ultimately, they’ll help to find a new approach for international travel. One that limits the spread of COVID-19, while relying much less on prolonged and very inconvenient quarantine measures.”

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Steve Maybee, vice-president of operations and infrastructure at Edmonton International Airport, said the airport looks forward to the program eventually being extended to cover all passengers arriving in Alberta.

“We all want travel to get back to normal as soon as possible and standardized testing is critical for that to happen. We’re glad to see the provincial and federal governments supporting this important issue,” he said in a statement.

Click to play video 'Calgary airport pilots COVID-19 testing program' Calgary airport pilots COVID-19 testing program
Calgary airport pilots COVID-19 testing program – Oct 22, 2020

“This issue is just as important to EIA as it is to Calgary. We have sun destination flights resuming starting next week. We have had discussions with the provincial government and Alberta Health Services about expanding this program to Edmonton as soon as possible.”

Read more: WestJet to start refunding flights cancelled amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Kenney also announced a new option for those looking to leave the country for essential travel.

Starting Monday, Albertans will be able to access a new fee-for-service COVID-19 test administered by Dynallife Medical Labs. For $150, travelers will receive their COVID-19 test results 72 hours in advance of their arrival time at their destination.