In the last two weeks, passengers on the 30 flights which have landed at a Canadian airport may not have been directly informed of their exposure risk. This is because there has been at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 onboard. The federal government has flagged twenty-one international flights from cities in Europe, India, Mexico, the Middle East, and various American cities and nine domestic flights.
The most recent of the international flights, an Aero Mexico flight from Mexico City, landed in Montreal on July 18, thirteen of landed in Toronto, five in Vancouver, one in Calgary, and two in Montreal. The federal public health authorities are not asking passengers to get tested directly. Although, the government knows those onboard affected flights may have been exposed to COVID-19. The government also stated that it is aware of the risk ask, and people should take the essential steps to safeguard their health and the health of others around them.
According to the government website, the people returning to Canada must quarantine for 14 days, despite if they have symptoms or not. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) echoed that passengers must also provide their contact information upon arrival. Airlines say they are joining hands with public health authorities, while the Federal health authorities indicate these notification protocols fall in provincial and territorial responsibilities. In terms of provinces, health authorities in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan also post flights affected by COVID-19 online, but Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec do not.
According to infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness, it is a “huge blindspot” in Canada’s pandemic response for not establishing speedy contact tracing of confirmed cases onboard flights. Furness, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, indicated that Airlines are quite capable of sending people a text to say their flight’s delayed. Colin also indicated that transport Canada could pass a regulation tomorrow that they must text everyone on that plane if an airline is notified of a case of COVID-19. They are also conducting contact tracing at a local level and led by provinces and territories. It added that under the law, it does facilitate sharing relevant information between the airlines, the provinces, and territories, and the country from which the infected passenger arrived.
Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesperson, said that contact tracing is the responsibility of health authorities. He added that they would determine whether contact tracing is necessary and will follow through as they deem appropriate. He also said that a flagged flight does not mean everybody “contracted COVID on the flight or essentially had it during the flight, only that the individual recently traveled and has since tested positive for COVID-19.” WestJet has also indicated that it has put in place a strict process and protocol for alerting crew members who served on an affected flight as soon as the airline is notified. It has also taken additional measures to help inform the public.
AFFECTED ROWS UNKNOWN
The flights flagged, according to the federal government’s website, are three domestic and eight international, which affected rows are unknown. Most of the others show a span of four to six rows. Air Canada and PHAC say that health agencies include affected rows based on information collected from the passenger. According to Fitzpatrick, passengers with concerns about exposure on a plane should contact their doctor. What is “also seen to be effective” is the pre-flight screening, temperature monitoring, and mandatory face coverings.
An Air Canada fact sheet says, “the reasons for the apparently low rate of in-flight transmission are not fully determined but are thought to include a combination of the lack of face-to-face contact and the physical barriers provided by seatbacks, along with the characteristics of cabin airflow.” Joseph Allen, an assessment science professor at Harvard University, wrote, “Billions of people travel by plane every year, yet there have only been a handful of documented disease outbreaks attributable to airplanes in the past 40 years. If planes made you sick, we would expect to see millions of people sick every year attributable to flights. We haven’t seen it because it’s just not happening.”