The million (or perhaps multi-billion) dollar question is how travel restrictions can be eased without greatly increasing risk.
We’ve seen a countless number of airlines call for border restrictions to be relaxed and for there to be more robust testing, but we haven’t actually seen that much data as to what impact this would have. This will soon be changing.
Voluntary COVID-19 international travel study
Canada currently has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arriving international travelers. This applies regardless of what country travelers are coming from.
It goes without saying that major airlines (and in particular Air Canada) are hoping for this to be relaxed a bit, given the extent to which it’s a deterrent for international travel.
McMaster HealthLabs, Air Canada, and Greater Toronto Airports Authority have teamed up to conduct a voluntary COVID-19 study of arriving international travelers.
Essentially the goal of this study is to determine the effectiveness of a mandatory 14-day quarantine compared to a rigorous coronavirus testing program.
Here’s how this voluntary study works:
- It began September 3, 2020, and lasts for a month
- International travelers arriving at Toronto-Pearson Terminal 1 will be invited to take part in the study, on a voluntary and confidential basis
- Participants will have a PCR test performed at the airport, and they’ll receive results electronically within 48 hours
- Travelers will be provided with two additional samples, to be self-collected seven and 14 days after arrival (during quarantine), coinciding with the government’s quarantine period
- The results will be published in a peer reviewed journal, in hopes that they can be used to shape any future quarantine policies
Do travel quarantines work?
Essentially this study is intended to determine just how much of a difference a 14-day quarantine makes, especially in comparison to testing.
No matter what aspect of the economy we’re talking about, there’s some risk-benefit analysis that needs to be done. For example, even in places where coronavirus is under control, there are risks to opening indoor dining, opening gyms, opening to visitors, etc.
The question is, just how much of a difference do precautions make? We’re seen many speculate on that, and we’ve also seen many travel brands suggest alternatives, though they largely haven’t been science based.
This study of inbound Canadian international travelers makes a lot of sense. The 14-day quarantine still applies, but they can determine:
- How many people actually have coronavirus upon entering the country?
- For those that don’t have coronavirus, how many have it at the seven and 14 day mark?
- If not a lot of people develop coronavirus with the second or third test, then presumably the conclusion would be that testing upon arrival would be a reasonable precaution to take to skip the 14-day quarantine
Can the results of this experiment be relied on, though? I have a couple of primary concerns:
- Since people are voluntarily participating, would high or low risk travelers be more likely to take part in this?
- What this doesn’t really consider is how many people would otherwise break their self-quarantine, since it’s not that tightly regulated; this actually seems like an advantage for mandatory testing on arrival over quarantining, and it’s something that this study won’t determine
The travel industry is talking a lot about how quarantines should be eliminated in favor of testing, which would allow people to travel more freely.
Unfortunately it has mostly been talk up until this point. There’s not much data as to how much risk that would add vs. a 14-day quarantine. And I don’t know about Canada, but at least in the US we still don’t have any major airports that offer travelers readily available testing, so…
What are you expecting the findings of this study to reveal?