Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday, July 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Feds look to finalize deal with airlines amid contact tracing concerns

Dr. Tam also said there hasn’t been a confirmed case of in-flight transmission

British Columbia’s transport minister made an official plea to her federal counterpart Wednesday to quickly make airlines provide more details on travellers to aid contact tracing efforts that could help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Concerns about the level of detail airlines provide have been greatest in B.C., where the provincial health officer has lamented a lack of movement from federal officials.

In a letter to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, the B.C. government noted the information the province has received from airlines is “not necessarily complete and is sometimes unusable.”

B.C. Transport Minister Claire Trevena said the data often includes the names of travel agencies that booked flights, a frequent flyer number, or the person who booked the ticket but not necessarily the name and contact information of the person who actually flew on the plane.

She urged the government to “ensure the data gathered is usable and traces back to the individual traveller directly,” rather than simply listing flights with a positive COVID-19 case.

“We have come so far together as a country with much success to curb the spread of COVID-19,” reads the letter. A copy was provided to The Canadian Press.

“As we restart our economy, however, we want to ensure all passengers and communities remain safe and that nobody is put at risk due to any oversight.”

READ MORE: Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Federal officials are trying to sort out how much information airlines should provide, and how the data should flow to provincial and territorial health authorities as they track down anyone who may have been on a flight with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Ottawa and airlines have been talking about the details to be collected, with the divide appearing to fall along whether phone numbers or email addresses are enough, or if residential addresses, for instance, should also be part of any handover.

A federal government official told The Canadian Press on Wednesday the issue revolves around information collected for domestic flights, with one of the hurdles being finding an agreement that satisfies all parties involved.

The official was not authorized to speak on the record because efforts are being headed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The federal health agency already requires airlines to provide information on travellers arriving on international flights, who are subject to strict quarantine rules.

Public health officials tried to trace contacts for every person early on in the pandemic, but those efforts slowed as people were ordered to stay home or quarantine, and as travel dropped.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday there could be improvements to the data that airlines provide, noting flight manifests lack all sorts of details that make it difficult to reach people in certain seats.

Tam also said there hasn’t been a confirmed case of in-flight transmission.

“Very few of our cases actually come from travellers at the moment,” she said. “But now that our case numbers have gone down, there’s been more interest in why don’t we follow some of these planes and see if there’s been any contact at all that’s been exposed or transmitted.”

The federal health agency she leads referred further questions to Transport Canada.

Air operators have to record the names of everyone on board an aircraft before each flight, but there is no federal requirement that they submit passenger manifests to Transport Canada, said Livia Belcea, a Garneau spokeswoman.

Belcea referred further questions back to the federal health agency, saying it is responsible for facilitating information-sharing between airlines and provincial health authorities.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘Bonnie’ and ‘Henry’ among latest litter of service dog puppies

B.C. Alberta Guide Dogs names two pups after provincial health officer

Man who stole truck and canoe in View Royal believed he was fleeing zombies, court finds

Judge finds man not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder for 2019 thefts

Electrical issue causes heavy smoke to billow from Oak Bay Avenue coffee shop

Victoria and Oak Bay fire crews responded to smoke at Victoria café

Former Victoria Royals manager celebrates Stanley Cup win

Grant Armstrong is now an amateur scout with Tampa Bay Lightning

Horgan frustrated as Transport Canada mandate for BC Ferry riders returns

Transport Canada reinstates rule that bans passengers from lower decks

105 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death as health officials urge B.C. to remember safety protocols

There are currently 1268 active cases, with 3,337 people under public health monitoring

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

Shoplifting suspect allegedly spits on worker at store in Nanaimo

Suspect became aggressive when confronted by loss prevention officer at Walmart, say RCMP

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Survey finds doctors worry supplies of flu vaccine, PPE will lag demand

Canadian health officials have said additional flu vaccines have been ordered to meet expected demand

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

B.C. VOTES 2020: Few solutions offered for ‘out of control’ camping

B.C. Liberals, NDP spend millions as problem keeps growing

Most Read