Since March 2020, when the World Health Organization first declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Government of Canada has imposed a mandatory requirement for any travellers returning to the country to quarantine for 14 days.
It has been announced today that the province of Alberta, in partnership with the Government of Canada, will implement a pilot program for rapid COVID-19 testing to replace the requirement for 14-day quarantine upon return.
Alberta’s Pilot Testing Program
Beginning on November 2, 2020, the province of Alberta will launch a six-month pilot program to use rapid testing as a measure to replace the requirement to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Canada.
The program will be in place for international arrivals at Calgary International Airport, as well as border crossings as the Sweetgrass–Coutts border crossing with the United States, with the view of expanding to Edmonton International Airport in the near future as well.
Canada’s COVID-19 border controls continue to remain in place, so this testing program will be available to Canadian citizens returning to the country, as well as foreign essential workers who are eligible to enter the country.
The rules of the pilot testing program are as follows:
- Upon arrival at Calgary International Airport from an international flight, travellers will be able to take a voluntary COVID-19 rapid test, the results of which will be available within 48–72 hours.
- During the waiting period, travellers are still required to enter into quarantine.
- If the test results are positive, travellers will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
- If the test results are negative, travellers will be able to exit their quarantine, while complying with stringent health measures such as wearing masks in public spaces and avoiding high-risk areas like elderly care homes.
- Travellers must check-in daily with authorities to report any symptoms or the absence thereof.
- Travellers must complete a second COVID-19 test between Days 6 and 7 of their arrival into the province in order to double-confirm their negative status at a community pharmacy participating in the pilot program.
- Travellers must remain in Alberta and must not go to other provinces within the 14-day period following their return to Canada.
The rapid-testing program is limited to Alberta for the time being during the pilot phase while the project gets on its feet. Edmonton International Airport will be the likely next recipient, with a timescale of “early in the new year” being mentioned, and I would expect the program to be expanded nationwide eventually if the pilot is a success.
You can watch the official press conference hosted by Alberta’s premier and health minister here:
What Does This Mean for Canadian Travellers?
The underlying message behind the pilot implementation of this rapid testing program is clear: taking into account public health advice and the broader considerations of both physical and mental health, there is undoubtedly a need to allow people to live their normal lives as much as possible while managing the very real risk of COVID-19.
I have a feeling that Alberta’s relatively low COVID-19 numbers, the relatively lower and more manageable traffic numbers at Calgary International Airport, as well as the Alberta populace’s relative support of relaxing lockdown measures compared to the rest of the country all played a key role in the province being chosen to pilot this rapid testing program.
If you live outside of Alberta, you’ll still be required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning home after international travel. The only exception would be if you fly into Calgary International Airport upon your return – although you’ll still need to remain in the province of Alberta for a 14-day period in order to comply with the rules.
It therefore must be said that most travellers in other provinces will still be deterred from international travel for the time being, although I’m sure we’ll all be keeping a watchful eye on how the Alberta pilot program turns out, in the hopes that it successfully prevents COVID-19 transmission from outside the country while allowing travellers to resume their normal lives upon receiving a negative test.
If you’re willing to spend a 14-day period in Alberta after your international trip, you’ll want to consider taking a direct flight into Calgary International Airport for your return journey, so that you’d at least be able to move around the province upon receiving a negative test.
Calgary is WestJet’s hub airport, who currently operate a direct flight to London Gatwick. There’s also KLM’s thrice-weekly direct flight between Calgary and Amsterdam; even though the European Union recently removed Canada from its travel whitelist, connections via EU airports are still permitted.
Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Air Canada suddenly ramping up its YYC services very shortly, too. 😉
Canadian travellers have been waiting for this moment for a long time. As of November 2, 2020, in partnership with the federal government, Alberta will launch a pilot rapid testing program with a view to replace the 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for returning international travellers and reduce the quarantine period to as little as two days.
It’s a groundbreaking step towards the resumption of international travel and the gradual restoration of the travel industry that we all love – including the thousands of jobs and families who depend on the industry that have been impacted by this year’s events.
Those of us based in the rest of Canada will continue to be subject to either a 14-day quarantine at home or a 14-day waiting period within Alberta’s borders upon returning from an international trip, although I’m sure we’ll be closely watching how the Alberta experiment plays out, with fervent hope that the rapid travel testing program is successful in relaxing the quarantine requirement while managing COVID-19 transmission from abroad.