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Watching the television, you’ve probably seen the head of an airline telling viewers that 14 day quarantine rules to visit a country not only makes travel impossible for most, but they’re also completely unnecessary. Now, there’s some scientific proof to that notion.

A large study conducted between McMaster Labs, Air Canada, the University of Toronto and Canadian health authorities found that double testing in travel was able to detect 100% of covid-19 cases, thus eliminating the need for 14 days of quarantine. Here’s the story.

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Study: 100% Effective Double Testing

Air Canada conducted a study in partnership with McMaster Health Labs, The Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and Toronto Airport to test the theory of testing versus quarantine in real terms. 13,000 passengers arriving from international getaways took part in the voluntary study.

Travel industry leaders want rapid testing instead of quarantine to ensure public health, but governments have been slow to relinquish control from mandatory 14 day quarantine rules for all arrivals into certain countries, including the UK and Canada.

The Study

As a basis of the study, volunteer arrivals into Toronto Pearson Airport were tested for covid-19, and then monitored and isolated for 14 days. A second test was conducted 7 days after arrival, as were subsequent tests later on in the journey.

The study’s preliminary findings, subject to final evaluation, were extremely powerful. Of all 13,000 arrivals, less than 1% tested positive for covid-19, indicating fewer than 130 people entered with covid-19 at all.

This low figure could easily be drummed up to tightened eligibility of travelers able to enter Canada right now, but it’s powerful nonetheless. Though Canadian borders are closed off to USA arrivals, visitors were still coming in from from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and beyond.

Remarkably, of that sub 1% of passengers carrying covid-19, 80% were discovered immediately via the first test on arrival. This makes the concept of rapid covid-19 pre-flight testing even more compelling, since it would’ve presumably stop up to 80% of cases before they were able to board, if study results hold true.

The remaining 20% of positive covid-19 cases from the study not detected with the first test were all discovered during tests conducted on the 7th day. In other words, no further covid-19 cases were discovered with subsequent testing in days 7-14 and beyond. 100% of the people who tested positive did so within 7 days of arrival.

a group of people walking in a terminal

Real Numbers

To put study’s results into more tangible numbers, fewer than 130 out of 13,000 tested passenger were infected with covid-19 and circa 80% of those 130 odd travelers could have been detected pre-flight via rapid testing, thus never entering the country. Yep, 108 out of 130 could’ve been stopped from boarding at all, if pre-flight testing existed.

So what about those who slipped through the first test? Even with the first test, 26 infected people per every 13,000 would slip through the net, based on initial results from the study. However, with the added layer of 7 days of quarantine and a second test, the number dropped down to zero. That’s 0 cases per 13,000 travelers that went undetected, and thanks to quarantine, contact would’ve been all but eliminated.

Unrelated recent CDC reports also suggest covid-19 spread on planes is far more uncommon than many would expect, thanks to new hygiene and face mask initiatives.

people sitting in a terminal

14 Day Quarantine

14 days of quarantine can now be seen as unnecessarily long and restricting, with little to show for their efforts. Governments could weed out an overwhelming majority of travel related covid-19 cases with a single pre-flight test, if a system were to be created.

Airports in much of Europe have been quick to add covid-19 testing facilities, and Japan created dedicated dedicated testing sites to expedite arrival testing at Haneda Airport. Despite mounting scientific evidence, The USA, Canada and United Kingdom have been slow to answer the academic calls to replace length 14 day quarantine and all blanket travel restrictions with metric based testing.

If this study’s indication that two tests can control and quarantine 100% of cases within a 7 day period, there’s hope that travel may become feasible again in the near future.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. 7 days quarantine is defo doable. This would make a huge difference. At least for me, I would travel for sure. 14 days, no way.

      1. Yeah, that would defo be enuf for me too. I’m careful but not overly concerned about Covid. Just hate being quarantined. Fingers crossed some sensible sense will take shape re traveling.

  2. 7 days is still a deal breaker for most leisure travel. I hope they do a follow-up test with 3 days quarantine and retest. Seems like basically 0.2% false negative, which seems lower than expected. What about false positives? Were there any who tested positive who actually were negative? This is I suppose not as bad of an error, but tell that to the person who has their travel plans disrupted, and wastes his vacation time and money due to a faulty test. Just like the lawsuit of the tennis player against the French Open due to false positive test, you can be sure there will be lawsuits when this happens without a clear refund and compensation policy.

  3. A 7 day quarantine will not save the travel industry. They should require a 72h old test before check in and another test on arrival. That’s it. Social distancing will help keep whatever case they miss under control.

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