NEWS
03/15/2020 19:00 EDT | Updated 03/15/2020 22:08 EDT

Airport Screening At Toronto Pearson Dragged On Twitter Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Many said they didn't experience any extra measures when returning to Canada.

Travellers passing through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport trying to get home during the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t impressed with the measures being taken to reduce chances of the disease spreading.

The airport’s website has said travellers passing through will be asked whether they are travelling from high-risk countries like China, Iran and Italy. Travellers who are from those areas but not showing symptoms of illness will have their contact information taken, and will be given a handout recommending they self-isolate for two weeks and contact their public health authority within 24 hours.

“These travellers will also receive a surgical mask with instructions on use, should they begin to experience symptoms while travelling,” the website reads, also noting that information booths are in place to give passengers more information about COVID-19.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Passengers check in for their flights at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Friday.

Glen Canning, father of Rehtaeh Parsons, posted on Twitter Saturday that he’d been in a customs line at the airport for over an hour with hundreds of other passengers, with no preventative measures in place.

“Six agents on duty, zero screening, no masks, no sanitizer in [sight]. This is as unsafe as it can get,” he wrote, in response to a tweet by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair that said the Canadian border agency had “enhanced screening measures in place at all international airports.”

Other people chimed in to post similar stories about what they perceived as inadequate and/or unchanged screening measures.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel-Garner also chimed in that her cousin had not experienced any extra precautions while travelling through Vancouver International Airport either.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Sunday that the window to “flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow.”

Dr. Tam also recommended all travellers returning to the country, regardless of travel location, self-isolate for 14 days.

“Everyone else needs to make sure to take all precautions to protect those at high risk while ensuring that they are fully supported and not isolated. This is our chance right here, right now. We need to act now and act together,” she said.

HuffPost Canada reached out to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which runs Pearson, and asked if any procedures at the airport would be changing in response to the complaints. 

An airport spokesperson redirected the questions to the Canadian Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada, but said they had increased staff cleaning hours, added hand sanitizer locations to key parts of the airport, and was regularly disinfecting all hard surfaces, terminal washrooms and the passenger processing kiosks.

When asked whether the airport would be hiring additional staff to deal with the concerns posed by the pandemic, spokesperson Beverly MacDonald said the airport was “working on additional measures for queuing during peak arrivals periods to support Public Health recommendations.”

Chris Helgren / Reuters
A traveller makes a phone call in the international arrivals lounge at Pearson Airport in Toronto, amid a growing global number of coronavirus March 13.

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) website says “travellers — no matter their country of origin — are assessed on arrival.” 

A spokesperson replied to HuffPost Canada on Sunday with detailed information about new procedures that are being finalized and will be implemented in the coming days.

In additional to posted signage, these include more CBSA officers at major ports of entry who will visually observe travellers and ensure they’re aware of the Public Health guidance.

All travellers coming into Canada will also be asked health screening questions by officers who have been authorized to refer any traveller they suspect of being ill — regardless of how they answered screening questions — for further evaluation.

All travellers will also fill out a Public Health form so authorities can track any potential carriers, and “travellers of concern” will be given kits that include a surgical mask.

“Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms is referred to a PHAC staff member for further evaluation,” they noted.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday that the issue of whether to close the border entirely remains up for discussion, but that border officials are updating signs and handouts about the pandemic to ensure everyone entering the country goes into self-isolation.

The government has also told travellers to avoid all non-essential travel and return home while they still can as countries tighten restrictions, leading customers to scramble to cancel or reschedule bookings amid long wait times.

COVID-19, a new form of coronavirus, has caused a global pandemic. At the time of publishing, Canada had 300 confirmed cases, and many other presumptive cases are under investigation. One person has died from the disease.

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UPDATE: This story has been updated since its original publication to reflect new information from the CBSA.