Ontario is launching a pilot program at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport that will see travellers tested upon arrival, voluntarily and for free.
Starting Wednesday, eligible passengers arriving at the airport will be able to get a free, self-collected PCR swab test, supervised by a health care provider. Test results will be provided to Ontario’s Lab Information System within 48-hours, and local public health authorities will follow-up on positive test results.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the pilot project “a game changer.”
“With over 60,000 international passengers coming into Pearson airport every week, we can’t take any unnecessary risks,” Ford said in a statement Wednesday.
“That’s why we’re putting in place this new pilot program to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and respond to new threats like the recent strain of the virus we’re seeing in an alarming number of countries without the same travel restrictions as the U.K.”
The provincial program announcement comes on the same day that the federal government issued an interim order requiring all travellers coming to Canada to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72-hours of departure. The pre-departure testing protocol replaces the ban that the Canadian government had placed on flights from the United Kingdom, which expires on Wednesday.
The pre-departure testing requirement was first announced by Transport Minister Marc Garneau last Thursday. The National Airline Council of Canada (NACC), which represents Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Jazz Aviation, said in a statement that the government rolled out the plan “without prior coordination with the industry.”
“While industry will do all it can to implement the new requirements, and ensure passengers are aware of their obligations, given the lack of detail and prior consultation this is going to be a very challenging exercise, the complexity of which the government must not underestimate,” NACC president Mike McNaney said in a statement.
Garneau said on Wednesday that the government has worked well with the airline industry over the last 10 months implementing various COVID-19 safety processes, such as mandating masks and taking passenger temperatures before boarding.
“We have been in touch with them for the past week and we have been working out the details with them,” Garneau said.
“We are confident that they will rise to the occasion and be able to apply this new interim order as of midnight tonight.”
All international travellers will still have to follow the federal government’s 14-day mandatory quarantine, even if they receive a negative test result before departure and upon arrival. Ontario said the next stage of its pilot project will introduce a modified quarantine for passengers who test negative.
Ford had previously lashed out at the federal government, urging it to move faster on COVID-19 testing for international travellers. He compared the way the border was being managed to a leaky roof.
“Let’s get the testing at the airport and stop the leak,” he said in December.
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.