Vancouver Island’s health authority says a recent case of COVID-19 on a plane that landed at Victoria airport was low risk and didn’t warrant notification.
The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control announced July 18 that there was a case of COVID-19 on board Air Canada flight 8073 that landed at Victoria International Airport five days earlier, July 13.
The Victoria International Airport has said they didn’t know about the case until everyone else found and Island Health says the reason that the airport and passengers weren’t notified about the COVID-19 sooner is because the risk was low.
“If an exposure in any public setting, and this includes airports, if it’s determined to be low risk, then we aren’t doing a specific notification,” said Dr. Dee Hoyano.
“If there was no specific close contact in an airport setting or any other public place or restaurant or workplace, we are just doing follow-up with the close contacts,” she added.
Hoyano explained that it can take some time before notifications are made to the public about confirmed COVID-19 cases and potential exposures.
“When we get that information of the test, we do the case investigation and determine when people are infectious,” said Hoyano. “I think it’s important for people to realize we are looking back up to 48 hours before someone actually has symptoms so there can be a delay when someone gets diagnosed.”
Health officials in B.C. no longer contact passengers on domestic flights with a confirmed case unless they’ve had close contact and officials at Victoria airport said they found out about the confirmed COVID-19 on Saturday.
Barry Tchir, regional vice-president of Union of Canadian Transportation Employees representing workers at YYJ, said the union and its members are alarmed that the airport was notified sooner.
“The members are concerned and we’re definitely monitoring the situation and discussing it with the authorities,” he said.
“We are working with the airport authorities. Their concern is justified as well, and we’re working with how we can move forward to make sure everybody is safeguarded in these situations.”
Tchir said just knowing what flight had COVID-19 on board sooner would be beneficial.
“If we know what flight it is, that’s enough information for us to move forward. We can look at our members working in or around that flight or who had contact with that flight,” he said.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, has called on airlines to enhance screening procedures, increase information sharing, and improve cancellation policies.
However, Air Canada told CHEK it does provide flight manifests – which contain passenger contact information, seat location, and itineraries – to all Canadian health authorities within 24 hours that they are requested.
The airline said not a single B.C. health authority has asked for a manifest from them in months.
“We also note that we have not had any requests for flight manifest contact information from any Canadian health authority recently, and specifically from B.C. since March 2020,” said Air Canada.
Canada’s largest airline also said that if someone does later test positive for COVID-19 following travel onboard one of their planes, they have a detailed follow-up process that involves notifying employees and cleaning the affected aircraft.
“Air Canada and its regional carriers have detailed follow-up processes for both the aircraft and employees working any affected flights,” the airline said in a statement to CHEK.
All airlines are required by Transport Canada to screen passengers prior to boarding any flight departing from a Canadian airport. The process involves a series of questions that the passenger must answer as well as a temperature check, according to Air Canada.
“If passengers do not appear well, or answer that they are ill, or if they present an elevated temperature at check-in … they will not be boarded, and will only be able to fly once cleared by a doctor and Air Canada’s medical desk. Flights are rebooked without additional change fees,” said the airline.
Air Canada said transmission of infectious diseases on an airplane is “exceedingly” rare.
Anyone who was on Air Canada flight 8073 July 13 should monitor themselves closely for symptoms for another week and limit your interactions with others.