Go full throttle on COVID rapid testing, pleads pilots’ union
October 07, 2020
They have a plan, but nobody’s listening.
The head of a Canadian pilots’ union is frustrated that efforts to reform Canada’s COVID-19 border policy are being dismissed by top levels of government.
Barret Armann, president of Unifor Local 7378 which represents pilots with Sunwing Airlines, described the proposal as a “science-based, industry-wide and sustainable” approach to safely resuming international air travel.
“The 14-day quarantine was a broadsword that came in and said ‘OK, that’s it, everybody quarantines,” Armann said.
“It’s shut down the economy, we can’t recover.
The crux of the plan — also signed and endorsed by Sunwing President Mark Williams — rests with administering rapid-result COVID-19 tests to arriving and departing international passengers, but the Canadian government refuses to consider approving their use.
“Rapid testing at the airport before you travel is a way to safely allow people to travel,” Armann told theSun.
“It makes (passengers) safer, and it’s more stringent if you do it on the way out and on the way in.”
Even with increased demands for COVID-19 testing, Canada continues to steadfastly refuse approving rapid antigen tests — despite their adoption and use by other countries.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began approving antigen tests.
Similar to a home pregnancy test, the testing cartridge returns results in just minutes — compared to the hours of lab analysis required with current genetic testing.
On Wednesday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu dismissed the FDA’s findings, branding rapid testing a “false sense of security.”
“We have not had a test submitted to Health Canada for approval yet that satisfies the regulator’s concerns around accuracy,” she said.
On Saturday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on Ottawa to approve rapid antigen testing to alleviate chronic testing backlogs.
Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole is echoing that call after being turned away after waiting in line for hours at an Ottawa testing centre.
On Friday, the 47-year-old found out he tested positive.
Seeking approval for the plan, Armann took part in a meeting with the chiefs of staff of both the health and transport ministers.
He pitched the proposal as real help for the transportation sector, not reliant on unsustainable government handouts.
“So we asked, what’s your plan?” Armann asked Sabina Saini, the Health Minister’s chief of staff.
“We pushed her because she wouldn’t answer, until she said ‘we have no plan.’”
Armann said they managed to source a plentiful supply of tests from a Japanese supplier, costing only a few dollars per test.
But with the Health Ministry dragging their feet, that plan’s on hold.
“The government seems to be ruling so slowly on this,” Armann said.
“It’s possible, they just have to do it.”
Spending a few dollars per test, he said, is far cheaper than relying on the word of passengers they’ll undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine, or the nearly $40-million spent providing free hotel rooms to returning Canadians unable to self-isolate.
Earlier this month, the federal government announced they’re spending $13.9-million for the City of Toronto to establish a voluntary quarantine hotel for those unable to self-isolate.
Toronto still sees the most international arrivals with confirmed COVID-19 cases, based on contact tracing from public health agencies.
Last week, six rows each of an Air Canada flight from Tel Aviv and WestJet flight from Cancun were impacted by positive tests.
“People can take a rapid test at check-in, and 15 minutes later they get a green light, then technically everybody on that airplane just tested negative,” Armann said.