Air travel: Expert says benefits of random testing unclear

As the federal government resumes random COVID-19 testing for incoming air travelers starting Tuesday, an expert is calling for more transparency on how the measure keeps Canadians safe.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) had suspended random testing at airports last month due to growing pressure to address long delays at airports. But beginning July 19, fully vaccinated international air travelers landing in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal or Toronto will again be subject to mandatory random testing — this time at offsite facilities rather than at the airport.

« Obviously there was some trouble at the airport and it was something that was off for a while. For some reason they decided to bring it back now. And, you know, what’s going on happening with this data is not entirely clear. » Tuesday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV’s Your Morning.

The office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said only four to five percent of travelers are selected for mandatory random testing. In a statement, PHAC told CTV’s Your Morning that « random testing involves monitoring the prevalence of COVID-19 by collecting data on travelers entering the country to see where the risks are coming from, in order to to prepare for possible future waves.”

But Bogoch said it’s still unclear what the federal government is doing with that data and how it’s helping Canadians stay safe.

“If there are good meaningful and actionable results as a result of this data, great. Let’s hear what they are and then we can make a value judgment. Is it worth it? us alternative methods of data collection? And how much does it cost, what is the return on investment for the collection of this data? » Bogoch says.

« I just think it would be helpful to hear from senior health officials, what do we do with this data? What are the actual results of this data? » he added.

Last Thursday, Duclos said random testing for incoming air travelers was key to monitoring the entry of new variants.

Random testing at airports isn’t the only way health officials collect data on new variants entering the country. Bogoch said health authorities could also examine aircraft sewage or interview people who test positive for COVID-19 about any recent travel they have taken.

« Collection of waste water on airplanes has been done in the past and they’ve used it to track, for example, antimicrobial resistance in different parts of the world. And I think that’s a low hanging fruit. and that it’s obviously not invasive in terms of impacting people’s journeys, » Bogoch said.

With files from Spencer Van Dyk of


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