Random Virus Testing Restarts for International Travelers in Major Canadian Airports

Mandatory coronavirus testing of randomly chosen international passengers arriving in Canada will resume at the country’s four major airports, government officials announced on Thursday.

The move comes as Canadian airports are grappling with the same kind of problems afflicting air travel around the world, including staff shortages, cancellations, delays and frustrated passengers.

Random testing will resume on July 19 for the passengers deplaning at airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto, the Public Health Agency of Canada said.

Canada requires travelers arriving from abroad, including by air, to be fully vaccinated, which means they have gotten their initial set of shots at least 14 days prior, but it dropped the requirement last month for people traveling by air within Canada and for federal transport workers. Still, travelers who are not vaccinated because they are exempt or Canadian must test for the coronavirus for 10 days after flying in to Canada from an international airport, and travelers who test positive or have symptoms on arrival are required to isolate.

“We need to keep border testing measures in place because that is how we track importation of the Covid-19 virus, and of new variants of concern,” the federal health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, said in a news release announcing the policy.

Canada temporarily paused the airport testing just over a month ago, a move the government said would allow it to shift testing sites to locations outside the airports to help streamline airport traffic. Similar testing at Canada’s land border with the United States has not been interrupted.

“The temporary pause in mandatory random testing at airports was helpful, as it resulted in a smoother experience for arriving passengers,” Julie Bannerjea, a spokeswoman at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said in an email.

Flight delays have been frequent: In June, between 10 and 27 percent of flights at the four airports were delayed by more than 15 minutes, according to data by OAG, a global travel analytics company.

More than 80 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, and close to half have received a booster dose as well, according to federal public health agency data; almost 10 percent have received two boosters. But the Omicron subvariant known as BA.5 is spreading rapidly in Canada, accounting for more than 40 percent of the country’s new cases in June. The subvariant is especially adept at evading some antibodies from previous infections and vaccines, but experts say there is no evidence it causes more severe disease.

“With the constant mutation of this virus, and what it’s doing in terms of transmission,” several Canadian provinces are in the midst of another wave, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Thursday at a news conference.

He was joined by other senior public health officials to announce that Health Canada had approved Moderna’s Covid vaccine for children aged six months through five years, the first vaccine it has authorized for most of that age group. The step makes about 1.7 million more children in the country eligible to be vaccinated. For months, the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech has been available to children ages 5 through 11 as well as the vaccine from Moderna for children 6 through 11.

Though nations across the globe have dropped a variety of public health safety measures over the last several months, the World Health Organization said earlier this week that the pandemic remains a global public health emergency, saying “the virus is running freely and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden based on their capacity.” W.H.O. regional officials for Africa issued a warning on Thursday to governments to increase enforcement of public health measures to curb the spread of the virus.

In Europe, where most Covid precautions were relaxed in the spring and the summer travel season is now in full swing, health officials say they are in the middle of a summertime virus surge driven by Omicron subvariants. The Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus reinstated its indoor mask mandates last week.

At least three cities in China have been put under partial lockdowns this week, as the government keeps trying to snuff out fresh coronavirus outbreaks. And in the United States, federal health officials urged Americans this week to do more to protect themselves from Covid because of rising levels of BA.5. “We should not let it disrupt our lives, but we cannot deny that it is a reality that we need to deal with,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic.

At the four Canadian airports, soon after completing their customs declaration, passengers who are selected for a mandatory test will be notified by email and told book an in-person appointment at an off-site clinic or pharmacy, or to take a self-administered test later and attend a virtual appointment.

Masks continue to be required aboard flights leaving Canada.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, air travel has been the focus of heightened concern for transmission of the virus.

“When we’re traveling, especially, we don’t have control over the ventilation,” with the exception of the air nozzle above each seat, said Marianne Levitsky, an adjunct lecturer at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and a certified industrial hygienist.

Ms. Levitsky encourages passengers to use the nozzle to increase the flow of air in their space on a plane, and said that wearing a respirator mask with a strong filter during a flight is “even more important,” especially when the plane is crowded.

Adeel Hassan contributed reporting.

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