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Air Canada makes a case for safe corridors of travel

An interview with Canada’s biggest airline about adopting measures that are allowing people in other G20 countries to travel.

Closed borders and quarantine requirements are making travel difficult, to say the least, as well as posing major problems for airlines to have a “safe restart” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. We connected with Mark Galardo, Vice President of Network Planning and Alliances at Air Canada, about safe corridors and ways that safety measures could be altered to encourage the struggling airline and tourism industries, and allow Canadian citizens to travel more freely.

Cult MTL: Considering the state of the pandemic in some places in the world, like the United States, what do you think the timeframe should be to reopen the border?

Mark Galardo: Air Canada is aware of the worrisome situation in the United States and at this time we are not proposing relaxing the U.S. border restrictions. We are urging the Canadian government to replace the quarantine requirements for countries with a low COVID-19 risk to strike a better balance for travellers and for the Canadian economy without adversely impacting public health.

Restrictions have been essentially unchanged since March.

CM: What measures should be put in place for visitors from places like the United States and other COVID-19 hotspots to keep Canadians safe?

MG: We should really look at what G20 countries have done. They have implemented practical, evidence-based approaches to travel by minimizing the risk of COVID-19 exposure through a range of measures endorsed by medical professionals worldwide including:

  • Determination of safe corridors of travel between approved jurisdictions with fewer cases (the safe corridors approach has been adopted in the U.K., France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal, among other countries)
  • Requirement for a pre-departure, medically certified negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the country (Caribbean islands)
  • Waiving of quarantine requirements following a negative test on arrival (Iceland, Austria, Luxembourg)
  • Mandatory testing on arrival (South Korea, Hong Kong, Macao, United Arab Emirates)

IATA has also noted that rapid testing could be a useful layer of protection for travellers from countries considered as higher risk, potentially removing the need for measures such as quarantine, which is a major barrier to travel.

CM: Will Air Canada be forced to implement additional safety measures should international travellers be allowed to visit Canada? And if so, what?

MG: We continually evaluate new processes and technologies as they become available to further enhance safety. After all, safety is the core of our business.

Air Canada has been at the forefront of the airline industry in responding to COVID-19 and adapted quickly to the “new normal” by adopting a combination of approaches to mitigate the risk, including several safety measures before they were made mandatory by Transports Canada.

We implemented an industry leading biosafety program called CleanCare+ and have undertaken several medical collaborations to advance biosafety across its business, including:

  • With Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto, a renowned global health care leader;
  • With Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience to explore rapid COVID-19 testing in an aviation environment;
  • And, since last year, with Toronto-based BlueDot, a company that monitors infectious diseases globally in real time to give us valid, relevant information to make business decisions quickly.

CM: Should there be a contact tracing registry for international travellers visiting Canada?

MG: This is a question that should be addressed to PHAC, because it’s the Public Health Agency of Canada or other health agencies that undertake contact tracing with passengers.

The airline is notified of any passengers who test positive for COVID-19 and we provide flight manifests to any Canadian health authority upon request, within 24 hours, as this is already a well-prescribed process for ALL infectious disease management. Flight manifest information provided includes names, contact information, seat location, itinerary and more. Our medical office works with the authorities to provide information required for their contact tracing.

What I can also tell you is that screening is already in place for all flights back to Canada via a series of Transport Canada and PHAC health questions that all passengers need to answer at check-in, before boarding. This has been in place for several months already.

As for onboard transmission, various government bodies, including PHAC have confirmed the risk of onboard transmission is exceedingly low, in accordance with scientific studies on communicable diseases and air travel.

HEPA filters effectively capture 99.9% of particulates from recirculated air in the aircraft cabin. This includes microbial organisms such as bacteria and viruses. 

These filters are similar to those used in hospital rooms and, like hospital rooms, the air within the cabin is refreshed every 2 to 3 minutes for a total of 20 to 30 total air changes per hour.

CM: Should Canadians still have to quarantine for 14 days when they return to Canada?

: Quarantine is a major barrier to travel for everybody, including Canadians. Canada has travel restrictions in place that are more severe than anywhere else in the world. As I said earlier, there is way to reopen borders in a safe, progressive and targeted manner, without adversely impacting public health.

It’s time to lift overly restrictive quarantines and blanket travel advisories. Countries around the world with COVID-19 curves similar to Canada’s have made the decision to put in place measures to allow for a safe re-opening. The EU opened its borders to Canadians, but we are not allowing Europeans to come here.

Again, there are few options and solutions out there and government should start thinking about implementing them. We need to learn how to live with the virus.

CM: If Canada reopens its borders to international travellers, and the pandemic numbers spike, should the reopening of the border be reassessed?

MG: There is no single measure, no magic bullet. As long as there is no available vaccine or treatment, we have to learn to live with this virus.

As WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated a few days ago: “It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future. Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume.”

CM: What is Air Canada’s economic contribution to Canada, and why should this be a consideration when talking about resuming travel?

MG: I can’t underscore enough the importance of the aviation sector to the Canadian economy. Air Canada alone generates about $50-billion, employed 38,000 people pre-pandemic and supports another 34,000 retirees. We indirectly support 190,000 jobs in spin-off industries, many of them here in Montreal such as tourism, ground transportation, airports, manufacturing, food and beverage and countless other suppliers. We represent nearly 2 per cent of Canada’s topic economic output, and millions of Canadians as well as many communities in Canada rely on us. Safely resuming international travel is critical to re-opening our economy and positioning Canada on the world stage. ■

For more on Air Canada, please visit their website here.

Read more about safe corridors for air travel here.

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