LONDON – Air Canada (AC) has ramped up its COVID-19 strategy by finalizing an order for 25,000 rapid test kits as part of its voluntary employee testing program. The airline has partnered up with McMaster Health Labs and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority as well for a study of incoming international travelers at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) as well.

Commenting on the news was Dr. Jim Chung, who is the Chief Medical Officer for AC, who expressed the view of the airline continuing research into this virus.

“Air Canada continues to explore various options for testing for COVID-19 and we are finalizing an initial order from Abbott for 25,000 rapid test kits for voluntary employee testing now that it has been approved for use in Canada. Understanding that we will need to live alongside this virus for the short- to medium-term, we have been pursuing relationships and a layered approach as a way to keep our employees and our customers safe.”

“We believe testing will be key to protecting employees and customers until such time as a COVID-19 vaccine is available. Rapid testing is also a means to enable governments to relax current blanket travel restrictions and quarantines in a measured way while still safeguarding the health and safety of the public.”

Photo: Casey Groulx

The Study

The study at YYZ began on September 3, with McMaster Health Labs (MHL) recording a total of 13,000 tests taken out on passengers, with just one percent indicating a positive result of the virus. Of that one percent, 80% were detected in the initial test and the rest on the test seven days on. On the tests conducted 14 days after arrival, no traces of the virus was detected at all.

This is positive news for AC and MHL as it is showing some level of positive news towards COVID-19 in the skies. The study will no doubt be used as a kick-starter for increasing passenger confidence in the wake of the pandemic.

Photo: James Field

Scepticism Overseas

These tests have produced scepticism overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom by the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who is to announce a plan for further COVID-19 testing this week.

He warned that instant tests at airports and ports have only picked up around seven percent of asymptomatic passengers with the virus. This ultimately brings into doubt the structural integrity of the testing that has been implemented on the Canadian side.

“You have got to have a period of quarantine – and you have got to have that first. Then you need to test. That’s where we’re working with the sector to look at,” he said.

Photo: John Leivaditis

So Who Is Right?

With those sides in mind, it is quite unclear whether the integrity of the COVID tests provided by MHL is strong or not. If they are indeed strong, then this will be a first step towards getting more passengers in the air, especially with the influx of consumer demand that would follow with it.

However, with politicians overseas and beyond criticising this, particularly in the case of further strategies needed, then it brings such confidence back to the same level it was at the start and peak of this pandemic.

It will be interesting to see what strategy Grant Shapps will have for the United Kingdom and whether this will produce a step closer to that of Canada.

Photo: Liam Funnell

Featured Image: Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo Credit: Liam Funnell