COVID-19: Airport testing ramps up amid Omicron uncertainty

Heath minister calls international travel 'risky and unstable'

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Vancouver International Airport | Chung Chow, BIV

The number of COVID-19 tests targeting travellers at airports has not yet hit capacity since new testing requirements came into effect late last month.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos revealed Friday the number of tests administered at airports daily sits at 17,000 as of December 9. 

That’s up from 11,000 daily tests administered as of November 30, when the federal government began requiring non-U.S. air travellers to get tested upon arrival. Those travellers must also take tests prior to embarking for Canada.

“The end state to test all non-U.S. air travellers is a capacity of 23,000 [tests per day] nationally,” Duclos said.

That leaves 6,000 non-U.S. air travellers going without COVID-19 tests each day.

When pressed for when airports will be able to hit that 23,000 mark, Duclos said it would come “as quickly as possible.”

The new testing requirements come amid the emergence of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, first identified in southern Africa. Much uncertainty still surrounds Omicron, such as its transmissibility and response to vaccines.

“Omicron is not yet prevalent in Canada. It has limited community transmission. That is going to change,” Duclos said.

Vancouver International Airport was administering 2,080 tests daily as of November 30. That has risen to 3,130 tests administered daily as of December 9.

Ottawa has placed orders for 95 million rapid tests, earmarking 86 million for the provinces and territories. Those tests can be used for purposes those jurisdictions see fit, such as testing at daycare centres.

Duclos said the provinces can expect to receive 35 million this month, adding the feds “will ensure” they arrive in time for the holidays.

Meanwhile, the health minister also urged Canadians to reconsider international travel amid uncertainty brought on by the Omicron variant.

“Canadians thinking of travelling abroad need to be warned that this situation abroad is both risky and unstable. They should also know that returning to Canada will likely involve delays and hassle,” he said.