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Ottawa is funding COVID-19 PCR tests for hundreds of thousands of travellers. Is it worth it?

Ottawa is funding COVID-19 PCR tests for hundreds of thousands of travellers. Is it worth it?
Written by Publishing Team

When David Frid received from Gananoque, Ont. , a mandatory government-funded COVID-19 PCR test at Toronto’s Pearson Airport Jan. 1, said it sounds like a waste of money.

Fred thought the chances of him testing positive were low, because he had already tested negative after taking a PCR test before leaving in Mexico before going home. He also argues that testing travelers on arrival is pointless, because the Omicron variant has already spread across Canada.

“I can’t imagine how much money and resources they put into this,” said Fred, whose access test came back negative. “It’s a complete waste.”

Some medical experts are also skeptical of the Ottawa arrival-testing program, arguing that rather than testing thousands of travelers a day, these resources could be better used to help combat the growing Omicron variant on the home front.

Currently, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in some provinces are rising to alarming levels and many Canadians who are showing symptoms can no longer access polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Traveler David Freed from Gananoque, Ontario, returned home from Mexico on January 1st. He said getting a COVID-19 PCR test on his return paid for by the Canadian government seemed like a waste of money. (Provided by David Fried)

“What is really clear is that COVID is ubiquitous and travel is not the main source of disease spread,” said Dr. David Carr, professor of emergency medicine in the University of Toronto’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

Getting people to repeat the polymerase chain reaction [test] On arrival it diverts resources away from places where they could be better spent.”

The government ramps up access testing

Before arriving in Canada, international travelers are required to pay for their molecular test (such as PCR) and show evidence of a negative result.

Tests that are now questioned on top of that, upon arrival. All unvaccinated travelers are required to have a PCR test upon arrival, and those who have been fully vaccinated must take a test if selected at random.

Last month, the government began ramping up testing of fully vaccinated travelers to the point where it now has the capacity to test more than 20,000 arrivals per day.

Ottawa pays for all access tests, and the cost of the test can range from $143 to $188, according to Public Health Canada.

Although the Omicron variant is rising across Canada, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Thursday that the government will continue its commitment to mass access testing.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that there is as little import as possible of COVID-19 and Omicron cases across borders,” he said at a press conference.

According to the latest government data, of the more than 104,596 vaccinated travelers tested after entering Canada during the week of December 19 to December 25, just over 2 percent tested positive. Of the more than 19,154 unvaccinated travelers tested that week, 3 percent came back positive.

Meanwhile, cases of Omicron have soared across Canada, driving the COVID-19 test positivity rate to more than 20 percent in many provinces. in a Alberta And ManitobaThe rate has risen to nearly 40 percent or more.

The demand for COVID-19 PCR tests is very high, and many counties have These tests are limited to certain individuals, such as health care workers and those considered to be at high risk and who are showing symptoms.

“It’s crazy to think that if you go on a weekend trip to Florida, you’ll get a PCR [test]But if you have a cough, a cold, a fever and you’re 60, you may not qualify, Carr said.

“I’d like to see the staff that we use to screen for travelers – as a screening tool – being used and hired for pop-ups and places where people with symptoms can get tested.”

Watch | Experts question travel access test:

Experts question the usefulness of PCR testing at airports

Medical experts question the benefit of screening air travelers for COVID-19 with a PCR test, saying testing resources could be better targeted elsewhere. 1:59

Dr. Somon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ontario, is also suggesting that the government redeploy access testing resources. But instead of focusing on large-scale local testing, he said, the money could go toward health care workers, and campaigns for vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

“I think they have a lot more yield right now than testing at the border,” he said. “We just have to shift our view away from knowing every case to essentially protecting the most vulnerable.”

When asked about the reallocation of resources for access testing, Duclos replied that they are separate from the federal resources provided to counties to fight COVID-19. He also noted that Ottawa is increasing the number of rapid antigen tests it supplies to counties, which can be used by those without access to PCR tests.

Throwing out all PCR tests for travelers?

Carr suggested that rather than requiring international travelers to take two PCR tests, one 72 hours before arrival and one upon arrival, a more efficient use of resources might be to assign travelers to a rapid antigen test just before boarding a plane.

Although PCR tests can be more accurateAntigen tests are much cheaper, don’t need to be sent to a lab and can provide results within minutes. Travelers sometimes have to wait days for PCR test results.

“If we’re trying to make flying safer, I’d rather fly a plane with people who’ve had a rapid test in the last 12 or 24 hours than a PCR test in the last 72 hours,” Carr said.

to enter the United States, air travelers only need to take one test – which can be a rapid antigen test – no more than a day before traveling.

last weekEngland has scrapped pre-arrival testing requirements for COVID-19 for fully vaccinated travelers and changed rules so that they only have to take a quick test after they arrive.

Last month, Public Health Canada told CBC News that it does not accept rapid antigen tests for travelers because they are less sensitive than molecular tests.

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