YVR Airport study shows rapid antigen test elevates travel safety

Apr 21 2021, 10:42 am

The findings of a study conducted at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) over a four-month period suggest rapid antigen testing is an effective way of screening travellers for COVID-19.

YVR and WestJet launched the pilot project in the domestic terminal in November, offering rapid antigen tests to WestJet domestic passengers who are residents of BC, and who had not tested positive for the coronavirus in the last 90 days.

On a volunteer basis, nearly 600 departing passengers underwent the rapid antigen testing for COVID-19, with all tests coming back negative. University of British Columbia (UBC) and Providence Health Care researchers conducting the test believe transmissible infection in airline passengers departing from YVR is “likely to be extremely low” — under 1%.

“Rapid antigen testing is a critically important tool – and perhaps an underutilized tool – in our ability to prevent and control COVID-19,” said Dr. Marc Romney, a clinical associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Medicine, and the medical leader for medical microbiology and virology at Providence Health Care’s St. Paul’s Hospital, in a statement.

“The findings from our study provide further evidence that this technology can be successfully deployed in an airport setting, and that rapid antigen testing performs surprisingly well – even in a low- prevalence population, such as air travellers.”

The participant feedback was “resoundingly positive,” described as “efficient” and “more comfortable than expected,” with each test taking between 15 and 20 minutes. It also boosted their confidence with flying.

“We’re pleased to see the results of our joint study with WestJet, UBC and Providence Health Care and are grateful to passengers for their participation. It demonstrates the commitment and interest from our community in rapid testing solutions,” said Tamara Vrooman, the president and CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority.

“Data gathered will be used for future testing strategies for the aviation industry, adding another layer of science-based health protocols to help reopen travel in a safe and efficient manner and to restore confidence amongst travellers. We’re also hopeful that our study results will go beyond aviation and prove useful across other industries as we move through the pandemic.”

According to recent Health Canada data, YVR is Canada’s biggest source of domestic flights with COVID-19 cases.

Over the 14-day period between March 29 and April 12, a total of 26 flights were flagged for COVID-19 exposure by the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Starting on February 21, the federal government enacted new mandatory testing requirements at airports for all arriving international travellers, as well as supervised quarantines at designated hotels for travellers awaiting their test results.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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