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The Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce is hoping a pilot project dealing with rapid testing for COVID-19 could result in a speedy return of airline service to J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport.
In a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil, chamber CEO Kathleen Yurchesyn suggested that rapid testing is a sophisticated solution to allow visitors in from outside the Atlantic bubble without the necessity of quarantining for 14 days.
“This request is not in support of removing the bubble, but rather a request to find ways to safely begin to deflate it,” said Yurchesyn.
The chamber is requesting the premier work with other leaders in Atlantic Canada to begin such testing at regional airports.
West Jet and Air Canada have recently announced a suspension of flights to and from Cape Breton’s largest airport. Air Canada will now only provide flights to and from Toronto five days a week.
“These suspensions in air service by our two major carriers is a significant blow not only to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality but to all of Cape Breton Island,” said Yurchesyn.
Air travel is down across the globe given the various restrictions in place by countries in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus which has resulted in a global pandemic.
Yurchesyn said the 14-day quarantine rule in effect in Atlantic Canada is an impediment for travel while a rapid test may result in increased travel.
A raid testing project first began in September at Toronto’s Pearson airport and another pilot project began Monday at Calgary’s airport and the Coutts border crossing in southern Alberta.
The Calgary program allows individuals to take a test and then self-isolate (24-48 hours) until the results are known.
With a negative test, the individual is free from isolation but must remain in Alberta for 14 days and have another test within six to seven days along with completing daily symptom checks.
According to Air Canada, the Toronto project completed some 13,000 tests of returning international travellers who volunteered to participate. The results indicate that more than 99 per cent have tested negative for the virus.
Since March, only four Canadian airports — Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver — have been allowed to accept international flights. There have been some exceptions.
Yurchesyn said rapid testing could be the mechanism necessary for governments to relax some travel restrictions, including quarantine, while still keeping everyone safe.
Cape Breton’s tourism season for 2020 took a hit as travel was limited because of restrictions and Yurchesyn said plans need to be in place sooner than later to boost the 2021 season.
“We know that we get to the other side of this pandemic and turn to recovery, regional markets like Sydney will be the last in line for service resumption, if we get the service back at all,” she, in her letter to the premier.
Yurchesyn said a reduction or cancellation of air service to the island presents an enormous risk to the broader business community but, more importantly, the island’s largest industry, tourism.
The already announced flight suspensions have resulted in some eight layoffs at the Sydney airport.