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Point-of-entry study interesting, but not convincing: Furey

Passenger traffic at airports around the world has declined sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. — Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
Passenger traffic at airports around the world has declined sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. — Andrew Robinson file photo/The Telegram
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Point-of-entry testing for COVID-19 is the subject of early research being done at McMaster University, which suggests the measure could help the fight against the coronavirus.

The study sought to determine how much COVID-19 was being brought in through international travel, how much could be detected upon arrival in Canada and how much could be detected after the two-week incubation period.

Of the 20,000 tests conducted on 8,600 travellers, 99 per cent came back negative for the coronavirus. Of the one per cent who were positive, approximately 70 per cent tested positive at point of entry, another approximately 30 per cent tested positive on Day 7 and another small percentage tested positive on Day 14.

“Interim results from the border study support a test and reduced quarantine approach such as that being piloted in Calgary,” said Dr. Vivek Goel, co-principal investigator of the study, a professor at the University of Toronto and a former CEO of Public Health Ontario.

“Testing upon arrival with a followup test to catch later positive results could provide a reasonable path forward to help keep borders and the economy open while maintaining public safety.”

Premier Andrew Furey cautions the results of the study are only the interim results, with the full study to be completed in January.

Furey says the problem is the potential for false-negative results at the point of entry, which could cause those who would later test positive for the coronavirus to enter society and infect others.

“The point-of-entry testing and probabilistic modelling that we’ve been looking at shows that point of entry in isolation obviously is not good because you have the 30 per cent false negative, but if you compare the two tests to just the test on Day 7, so you have a point of entry and a point of exit … even if you compare them with the point of exit alone, those results are fairly similar,” said Furey.

Premier Andrew Furey - FILE PHOTO
Premier Andrew Furey - FILE PHOTO

“In fact, they’re almost identical. So, the point of entry, we’re concerned, may cause a false sense of security and therefore cause extra disease spread, which wasn’t really reflected in the McMaster study to date.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie has been calling for point-of-entry testing at airports since the early days of the pandemic. Crosbie says the testing could allow rotational workers more normalcy in their lives.

“Rotational workers in our province have been asked to sacrifice for months without an end in sight,” Crosbie stated in a news release on Nov. 16.

“Compassion for these workers from government needs to be something other than words.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie - FILE PHOTO
Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie - FILE PHOTO


Two of the recent clusters in Newfoundland and Labrador are believed to have been triggered by rotational workers entering the province from Alberta. On Monday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced changes to isolation rules for rotational workers to have them tested on Day 7 of isolation, rather than on Day 5, in an effort to better detect the coronavirus. Should a test come back negative on Day 7, the worker could have an opportunity for a reduced isolation period.

Fitzgerald says the rules for rotational workers have been effective to date.

“I think we have to consider the number of people who have come back and who have not spread it to their family members,” said Fitzgerald.

“No system is going to be perfect, but as I’ve said before, we cannot create policy based on one or two specific examples or one or two cases. We have to look at the whole picture and decide where is the best use of our resources that will give us the best information and provide the best protection.”

David Maher reports on provincial politics in St. John’s.


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