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Ontario to start mandatory COVID-19 testing for international travellers Monday, Canada's still weeks away

Last Updated Jan 29, 2021 at 4:37 pm EDT

Ontario will make all international travellers take a COVID-19 test on arrival at Toronto Pearson International Airport starting Monday, February 1.

Lauded by the Ford government for several weeks now, the province will move forward with the passenger testing despite a similar federal program announced Friday that’s set to ramp up in the coming weeks.

Doug Ford says it is implementing a six-point plan which includes mandatory on-arrival testing of international travellers, enhanced screening and sequencing to identify the new variants, maintaining public health measures.

The screening measures will go into effect on February 3. The government will coordinate further safeguarding efforts for emerging variants by sequencing up to 10 percent of all positive tests by February 17.

Unlike the federal government, the province’s mandatory airport testing will begin on Monday at noon (12:00 p.m.) with Ontario pressing for a quicker response in an attempt to further control the spread of variants, such as the one first discovered in the UK.

“We welcome the new measures announced by the federal government today, but we need a stop-gap to prevent new cases, including variant cases, from arriving in Ontario until those measures are fully in place,” said Ford.

“That’s why our government is taking immediate and decisive action, which includes mandatory testing of incoming international travellers and providing additional layers of protection for the people of Ontario, especially our seniors. Through our six-point plan, we intend to stop this virus in its tracks.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams used authority granted to him under public health legislation to impose these mandatory tests.

The testing order will come into effect Monday at Toronto’s Pearson airport, and will also apply to the province’s land border crossings to the United States.

Ford said Friday that Ontario has confirmed 51 positive cases of the new variant of COVID-19 and, among them, five were identified through the government’s pilot testing program at Pearson airport.

This comes after the province’s latest round of COVID-19 modelling, with Dr. Adalsteinn Brown saying they’re concerned about new variants of the virus, such as (B.1.1.7), which continues to spread in Ontario potentially threatening pandemic control.

Brown also noted the B.1.1.7 variant is at least 30 percent higher in terms of transmissibility than the current strain.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced stricter restrictions on travellers in response to new, likely more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus – including making it mandatory for travelers to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense when they arrive in Canada.

The Prime Minister said all incoming international flights will be forced to land in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. He also announced the cancellation of all flights to sunny destinations, such as the Caribbean and Mexico, until April 30.

Toronto Mayor John Tory issued a statement applauding Trudeau and Ford’s ongoing efforts to keep the country safe.

“I believe that imposing these new travel restrictions will help. They will make a difference,” said Tory.

“That’s why I have advocated for these changes and enhanced federal quarantine enforcement, why the GTHA Mayors and Chairs supported stricter travel measures earlier this week, and why I have supported Premier Ford’s calls for mandatory testing at our airports.”

In a call-to-action on Tuesday speaking at Pearson Airport, Ford urged the feds to enforce these types of COVID-19 restrictions.

RELATED: Ontario launches voluntary COVID-19 testing pilot at Pearson Airport

Successful pandemic repellers from South Korea to Australia, for example, require 14-day hotel quarantines for passengers arriving from abroad.

In New Zealand passengers head straight to a “managed isolation facility” – a hotel – if they have no symptoms or a “quarantine facility” if they do.

New Zealand was recently ranked the best performing in an index of almost 100 countries based on their containment of the virus.

A testing pilot project at Pearson Airport found just more than two percent of those arriving at the airport from international destinations tested positive for the virus.

Canada already requires those entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days and to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before arrival. The suggested measure would require isolating at a hotel rather than at home.

This comes with Ontario reporting another decrease in infections with 1,837 new cases of COVID-19 today and 58 more deaths related to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliot says that there are 595 new cases in Toronto, 295 in Peel Region, and 170 in York Region. More than 69,000 tests were completed since Ontario’s last daily update.

Meanwhile, Ontario says that 10,215 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered since Thursday’s daily report.

A total of 327,455 doses of a vaccine have been administered so far.

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