B.C. health officials praise new WestJet policy on contact tracing

B.C. health officials praise new WestJet policy on contact tracing
British Columbia's top health officials are praising a new policy created by the Canadian airline company, WestJet, surrounding contact tracing.

British Columbia’s top health officials are praising a new policy created by the Canadian airline company, WestJet, surrounding contact tracing.

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, issued a joint statement on Friday that said WestJet’s decision to share information with B.C.’s health officials will “help [them] immensely.”

According to written statement, the airline company met with both Dix and Dr. Henry in order to hear from them directly on how WestJet could best help amid the COVID-19 situation.

“Throughout this pandemic, our contact tracers have had challenges reaching people who were exposed to the virus while flying – because of the limited information available on traditional flight manifests,” reads the statement, highlighting difficulties with airline information.

B.C. health officials are saying that WestJet is opting to collect names and contact information for each of their passengers at check-in and share that information with public health officials if necessary.

“It’s a policy that will keep our communities, and all passengers travelling on WestJet, WestJet Encore, WestJet Link and Swoop, safer during this pandemic,” reads the statement from Dix and Dr. Henry.

If a COVID-19 case is identified on a WestJet flight, B.C.’s health officials will now be able to contact individuals directly who may have been exposed.

“In air travel, it is still a relatively low risk, but it is a risk that we would prefer to be able to notify people of in an efficient way,” the statement reads.

The Canadian airline company follows the local bars, restaurants and other businesses in B.C. that have partnered with public health in order to share information and limit the coronavirus from spreading.

Anyone can check for possible exposures on flights at the BC Centre for Disease website.

Also this week, WestJet announced a strict new policy to ensure passengers wear masks onboard planes, including the possibility of banning travel for a year if they refuse to comply.

The policy, applicable to all WestJet flights as well its budget subsidiary Swoop, builds on the mandatory on-board mask rule imposed by Transport Minister Marc Garneau in April to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Starting Sept. 1, refusal to wear a mask by customers over the age of two will be met with a three-step process, WestJet said. Flight attendants will first ask them to put on a mask and then give a warning that face coverings are required.

If passengers continue to refuse, cabin crew will notify them that they are being placed on a no-fly list for travel on any WestJet aircraft for 12 months.

“Masks are mandated by our regulator and the vast majority of our guests are happy to keep themselves and each other safe by complying. This enhanced policy provides clarity on how we will enforce the regulation for those who don’t,” chief executive Ed Sims said in a statement.

“Travellers must understand if they choose to not wear a mask, they are choosing not to fly our airlines.”

More than 560 flights with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 arrived at or departed from Canadian airports in the six months between February and July, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

At WestJet, fewer than 15 flight attendants became infected in the first four months of the pandemic, said Chris Rauenbusch, a flight attendant and official with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the company’s cabin crew.

“CUPE is very pleased to see the further steps WestJet is taking to keep our members safe and empowered. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the airline in reassuring all guests that air travel is truly safe,” Rauenbusch said in a statement.

With files from The Canadian Press

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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