Nearly 1,000 flights in Canada have carried COVID-positive passengers since February

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Nearly 1,000 flights in Canada have carried at least one COVID-positive passenger since February, according to figures CTV News obtained from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

More than 370 domestic flights clocked at least one passenger who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the figures, and just shy of 600 international flights found the same. In total, between Feb. 4 and August 24 this year, 973 flights flew into or within Canada with carriers of the illness on board.

The last flight known to carry a COVID-19 case on board -- which fell outside the range of data PHAC provided -- landed in Toronto on Sunday, carrying passengers travelling from Edmonton.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the government is taking a “very serious and layered approach” to minimize the risk of passengers bringing COVID-19 into Canada.

“Those measures include, when somebody is travelling from abroad…screening questions, temperature measurements, the fact that they must wear masks,” Garneau said.

“All of those are measures that are designed to minimize the possibility of bringing anybody who’s infected into the country and then transmitting it while they’re on the aircraft.”

However, some of the measures — namely the 14-day quarantine period — have proven difficult for the air travel industry to reckon with as they continue to haemorrhage profits. As a result, the industry is trying to come up with creative solutions.

The latest effort is a pilot project, conducted by McMaster HealthLabs, Air Canada, and Greater Toronto Airports Authority. Using voluntary testing, the project intends to figure out how many international travellers arriving in Canada test positive for COVID-19 during the 14-day quarantine period.

“The 14 day quarantine is a significant issue for us for the aviation travel tourism sector. Certainly I think that’s one of the largest impediments right now, for travel,” said Dr. Jim Chung, Air Canada’s chief medical officer, in an interview with CTV News on Thursday.

Chung said the hope is to gather “enough data and evidence to provide to the government so that they can look at alternatives in a safe and evidence based manner…to the 14-day quarantine.”

Dr. Vivek Goel, a co-principal investigator of the study, echoed Chung’s comments on Thursday.

“There’s some modelling work from the U.K. that suggests that Day One and Day Seven testing picks up almost all the cases that you would just otherwise be quarantining for 14 days. So even if we can get the quarantine reduced by a week,” he said, reiterating the study’s goal.

In response to questions about the study, Garneau said the government is “always assessing” ways to return to normal, but only in a “safe and prudent” way.

“We have to make sure that those processes are going to be safe, that the testing itself has a high reliability and those kinds of things, but it is worth looking at these things as part of our desire to return to normal, but in a safe way,” Garneau said.

Still, despite the precautions and a 14-day mandatory quarantine period, not everyone is playing by the rules -- and some have paid the price for it.

“As of September 1, 2020, the RCMP has issued 20 fines totalling just over $18,000 to individuals under the Quarantine Act,” said Cpl. Caroline Duval, a spokesperson for the RCMP, in a statement emailed to CTV News.

In addition to that, two people have been charged under the Quarantine Act.

“In separate occurrences, both subjects entered Canada and did not quarantine themselves in accordance with instructions provided by officials upon entry into Canada and did not remain in quarantine until the expiry of the 14-day period,” Duval said.

In contrast to the rule breakers, however, others are playing by the rules — and finding themselves falling between the cracks of the system.

Richard Kramer was observing his 14-day quarantine period when his phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number and ignored the call, but upon listening to the voicemail learned it was the government checking in to ensure he was following the quarantine rules. The voicemail said they would call back in 24 hours — but when that call came, an automated voice claimed to have tried to contact him multiple times and accused him of violating the rules.

This, despite the fact that he says he had only received one call and was observing all proper quarantine precautions.

“I was, understandably, not too happy with this,” Kramer told CTV National News in an interview.

While he was able to clear up the confusion after a series of phone calls, Kramer remains concerned that others might not be able to do the same.

“I am concerned that for most people that wouldn’t be that tenacious, simply because they don’t know how to access the various webs of the system in order to get to a live human being in the federal government. Most people would leave it,” Kramer said.

“We didn’t have police come to us because we were able to resolve it, but only as a result of my various steps and my efforts.”

With files from CTV National News reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver

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