TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian government and the province of Alberta are launching a pilot program to test eligible returning travelers for COVID-19, allowing them to leave quarantine once they receive a negative result, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Thursday.
The move could potentially bring relief to the country’s struggling airline and tourism industries, which have lobbied the federal government to ease travel restrictions and a strict 14-day quarantine rule.
Canadian citizens, permanent residents, foreign nationals allowed entry into Canada and essential workers with no symptoms can volunteer to get tested at the Calgary International Airport and one land border crossing starting Nov. 2.
Such passengers can then leave their place of quarantine once they receive a negative result, as long as they commit to getting a second test six or seven days after their arrival, participating in daily check-ins and following other public health measures.
However a federal minister said individuals would have to quarantine between the first and second negative test results.
“My understanding is that there would be a quarantine requirement in those six days period so that they could not go and super spread,” Bill Blair, minister of public safety, told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday.
Canada has had a mandatory quarantine for all travelers entering the country since March.
“COVID-19 is still here, but we’ve come a long way since March,” Kenney said. “We must find ways to bring back safe travel if we’re ever going to get the economy firing again on all cylinders.”
He called the pilot program “a sign of hope” for the travel industries.
Onex Corp-backed WestJet Airlines Ltd, Canada’s No. 2 airline, welcomed the announcement.
“We have been asking for a science-based approach based on multiple layers of testing to help safely ease the quarantine requirements,” said Ed Sims, WestJet president and chief executive.
The European Union this week removed Canadians from their list of “safe” travelers as COVID-19 cases spike across the country.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)