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Provinces urge feds to ramp up rapid testing at airports amid new COVID-19 variant

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Ontario Premier Doug Ford implores feds to help test travellers at Toronto Pearson International Airport' Coronavirus: Ontario Premier Doug Ford implores feds to help test travellers at Toronto Pearson International Airport
WATCH: Ontario Premier Doug Ford implored the federal government to help set up COVID-19 testing for those entering Canada through international flights at Toronto Pearson International Airport. – Dec 21, 2020

Ontario and Quebec are urging Ottawa to ramp up rapid testing and oversight at airports to ensure international travellers are respecting quarantine rules and aren’t bringing more cases of the novel coronavirus onto Canadian soil.

The calls come amid multiple reports of a new COVID-19 variant spreading within the U.K. and, recently, making its way into Canada. To date, four cases have been identified in Canada.

This variant appears to be faster spreading than the original form of the virus, prompting renewed concern about controlling potential outbreaks

Read more: COVID-19 variant may not be deadlier, but we shouldn’t dismiss it: experts

In light of this news, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is asking Ottawa to boost its rapid testing capacity in Canadian airports and to require returning passengers to be tested before hopping on the plane back home. While Dubé said the federal government has agreed to make the changes in January, he wants to see action now.

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Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Ontario premier demands airport testing or says he will move to do it' Coronavirus: Ontario premier demands airport testing or says he will move to do it
Coronavirus: Ontario premier demands airport testing or says he will move to do it – Dec 21, 2020

Meanwhile, in its own provincial bid to quash the virus, the Ontario government is asking Ottawa to help to implement a rapid testing pilot project at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

“With the confirmation of three UK variant cases stemming from inbound international travel, the province continues to call on the federal government to urgently partner with Ontario to implement testing at Toronto Pearson International Airport and strengthen oversight of quarantine,” wrote Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

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While a spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu confirmed that the feds have been in talks with Ontario about the pilot project, he said the federal government has outstanding concerns about the proposal.

“The shortened quarantine period proposed by Ontario as part of their testing pilot is concerning to us, given the current increase in cases in the province that is placing significant pressure on public health resources,” said Cole Davidson in an emailed statement.

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“Discussions are ongoing and we will continue to use research and science to inform any next steps on border measures.”

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However, Hilkene said Ontario is poised to implement the rapid testing pilot program — with or without the federal government’s support.

“Regardless of whether federal support is forthcoming, the Ontario government is prepared to act on its own to implement an airport testing program,” she said.

Global News asked both the Ontario government and the federal government for a timeline on this pilot project as well as whether they intend to respond to one another’s concerns, but both declined to provide further information on the matter.

Read more: Canada reports first cases of U.K. coronavirus variant. Here’s what you need to know

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In addition to concerns about the COVID-19 variant, reports have emerged of Canadians throwing caution to the wind and ignoring government recommendations to cancel their vacations and stay home.

Quebec’s health minister said he was shocked and worried following reports that droves of Quebecers had headed down south to party and relax in beachside resorts. Le Journal de Montréal recently sent reporters on an undercover trip to such a resort, where they said they found repeated disregard for mask-wearing and distancing as Canadians took a vacation from any previous zeal they may have had for following lifesaving pandemic guidelines.

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AMA Travel: Explaining the shorter quarantine time pilot project – Nov 6, 2020

Meanwhile, the news broke Tuesday that Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips ignored his own government’s advice to stay home for the holidays and is currently out of the country on a personal trip.

In a statement released Tuesday, Phillips noted that he and his wife left Dec. 13, after the end of the legislative session, on a “previously planned trip outside of the country.”

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“Had I been aware then of the eventual Dec. 26th province-wide shutdown, we would have canceled the trip,” the statement said.

Premier Doug Ford announced on Dec. 21 that a four-week lockdown would begin in the province starting Boxing Day.

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Understanding the impact of the new COVID-19 variant – Dec 29, 2020

However, federal public health guidelines have advised against non-essential international travel throughout the course of the pandemic.

Davidson reiterated these rules in a statement emailed to Global News.

“The strong travel restrictions and border measures in place in Canada since March 2020 are working – only 1.3% of all known COVID-19 cases in Ontario have originated from travel outside the country,” he said.

“With a 14-day quarantine in place, our border measures are some of the strongest in the world.”

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— With files from The Canadian Press

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