Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday, July 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Feds look to finalize deal with airlines amid contact tracing concerns

Dr. Tam also said there hasn’t been a confirmed case of in-flight transmission

British Columbia’s transport minister made an official plea to her federal counterpart Wednesday to quickly make airlines provide more details on travellers to aid contact tracing efforts that could help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Concerns about the level of detail airlines provide have been greatest in B.C., where the provincial health officer has lamented a lack of movement from federal officials.

In a letter to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, the B.C. government noted the information the province has received from airlines is “not necessarily complete and is sometimes unusable.”

B.C. Transport Minister Claire Trevena said the data often includes the names of travel agencies that booked flights, a frequent flyer number, or the person who booked the ticket but not necessarily the name and contact information of the person who actually flew on the plane.

She urged the government to “ensure the data gathered is usable and traces back to the individual traveller directly,” rather than simply listing flights with a positive COVID-19 case.

“We have come so far together as a country with much success to curb the spread of COVID-19,” reads the letter. A copy was provided to The Canadian Press.

“As we restart our economy, however, we want to ensure all passengers and communities remain safe and that nobody is put at risk due to any oversight.”

READ MORE: Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Federal officials are trying to sort out how much information airlines should provide, and how the data should flow to provincial and territorial health authorities as they track down anyone who may have been on a flight with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Ottawa and airlines have been talking about the details to be collected, with the divide appearing to fall along whether phone numbers or email addresses are enough, or if residential addresses, for instance, should also be part of any handover.

A federal government official told The Canadian Press on Wednesday the issue revolves around information collected for domestic flights, with one of the hurdles being finding an agreement that satisfies all parties involved.

The official was not authorized to speak on the record because efforts are being headed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The federal health agency already requires airlines to provide information on travellers arriving on international flights, who are subject to strict quarantine rules.

Public health officials tried to trace contacts for every person early on in the pandemic, but those efforts slowed as people were ordered to stay home or quarantine, and as travel dropped.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday there could be improvements to the data that airlines provide, noting flight manifests lack all sorts of details that make it difficult to reach people in certain seats.

Tam also said there hasn’t been a confirmed case of in-flight transmission.

“Very few of our cases actually come from travellers at the moment,” she said. “But now that our case numbers have gone down, there’s been more interest in why don’t we follow some of these planes and see if there’s been any contact at all that’s been exposed or transmitted.”

The federal health agency she leads referred further questions to Transport Canada.

Air operators have to record the names of everyone on board an aircraft before each flight, but there is no federal requirement that they submit passenger manifests to Transport Canada, said Livia Belcea, a Garneau spokeswoman.

Belcea referred further questions back to the federal health agency, saying it is responsible for facilitating information-sharing between airlines and provincial health authorities.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CH-149 Cormorant helicopters may be part of night training exercises in the Chilcotin this month. (Canadian Armed Forces photo)
442 Transport and Rescue Squadron to hold night training in the Chilcotin

The public may see flares and search and rescue technicians parachuting to the ground

Snow is in the forecast for Williams Lake Friday, Oct. 23, which has already been falling in areas of the Chilcotin as seen here at Nimpo Lake. (Harriet Hird photo)
Ice, snow, chilly temperatures in forecast for Williams Lake area

Temperatures will dip down to -11C on Friday evening

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Motorist pulls into B.C. RCMP detachment after roadkill eagle comes back to life in minivan

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

Part of the committee’s business plan is to give the “school,” officially known as the Wells-Barkerville Culture and Recreation Centre, a new name. (District of Wells)
Wells school renovation gets funding boost from mining company

Barkerville Gold Mines has put half a million dollars into the project to renovate the closed school

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Most Read