Feds should use ‘science-based approach’ on travel restrictions: Air Canada’s chief medical officer

published on July 17, 2020

Canada if you've been watching this week we talked about this is asking the federal government to ease some international travel restrictions Air Canada wants the government to back away from a blanket 14-day quarantine and instead establish criteria to exempt

Certain countries based on their domestic kovat 19 profiles let's dig into that in more detail now dr Jim Cheung is the chief medical officer at Air Canada and he joins us now dr Chung thanks very much for being with us this

Morning we appreciate it well thank you for having me let's start with your role of chief medical officer I'm not sure everybody knows about what role like that would entail what is it that that you do as part of that role at

Air Canada well I'm responsible overall for the the medical aspects of Air Canada significant regulatory aspect with respect to aviation sector including both our pilots and our flight

Attendants as well as the in-flight medical emergencies so just a bit of the other duties and as we mentioned Air Canada have been in the headlines this week as part of this ask if you will of the federal government to think

Differently about quarantine when it comes to different countries where people might be traveling from can you elaborate on on what you would like to see the government do and why we would like them to have the conversation and

Just really look at the quarantine and look at it from an evidence-based and a science-based approach as opposed to a one-size-fits-all policy at the beginning of your of your segment here you you mentioned you know a number of

Cases coming in from different countries some of which were high-risk and some of which were local so certainly you know we want to have that conversation and look at it from a from individual country and a risk based assessment and

An evidence-based assessment and how do you go about doing that I think is the question some people might have because in theory I understand what you're saying I guess in practice how do you go about executing on that well I think you

Know firstly I think it would have to have all stakeholders involved to have that discussion and set up parameters when we think are low risk and high risk countries based on the community

Transmission levels within those countries whether it is similar or the same to Canada if not lower on a per capita or population adjusted basis do they have underlying reasonable public health facilities and contact

Tracing and the infrastructure set up similar to Canada and have they been doing testing at a comparable level so that the you know we can trust their their data that they're producing so these are some of the guidelines that

Have been documented certainly within the EU as you're aware in conjunction with the European CDC or centers for disease control for safe travel or travel bubble if you will for a mug's European UN countries and and countries

Like Canada so we're just asking for an evaluation sort of if not the same but you know at least have that discussion for it starting off with that dr Cheung I wonder if you could give us some examples of countries that might be

Doing you know quote-unquote better on the Cova 19 front and and what kind of quarantine might be more acceptable in your opinion for that country or those countries versus other countries well I mean certainly like certain countries

That are comparable with levels to Canada would be not indifferent or much different than say interprovincial travel from Ontario to the BC for example from BC to Ontario if you have a similar country a country with similar

Community transmission characteristics you know I think Italy settled down quite a bit Greece is at very low rates and then countries that are a bit higher than you know we should have a discussion and conversation on you know

What are the requirements and as you've noted you know it's on the earlier part of the segment it's it's difficult near if not near impossible to track travelers coming into Canada with the quarantine period we don't have the

Resources of manpower and as testing capability ramps up we should be having that discussion with respect to testing testing either prior to departure and testing on arrival but some sort of a combination may satisfy a you know

Reducing the risk to us to a reasonable amount or even lower if not you know just to make Canadians comfortable we highlighted those comments from the prime minister who didn't seem to show any interest at

Least for now on easing flight restrictions generally speaking what can you say about this conversation that you have you are having with the federal government if you're having it at all I mean what what stage are the talks in

Well we are in a regular dialogue with both the Ministry of Transport as well as the public health agency of Canada however regarding this letter we haven't had any conversations to date and and what has been your experience with

People who are flying with Air Canada with the airline maybe even your own experiences I mean have you been doing any flying is there anything you would say about the flying experience for those who see the headlines see the news

And do have worries about the health risk about getting on a plane right now sure there's a multiple it's an individual decision firstly but secondly there is a multi-tiered a multi-layered approach to safety that we are taking an

Undertaking though you know and it starts really at the curbside with ensuring that only only those passengers that actually have a boarding pass are allowed to enter the airport social distancing frequent hand sanitizer

Available contactless check-in as much as possible through the requiring of wearing mass as well as a temperature checks at the airport and a Health Questionnaire assessment prior to receiving their boarding pass and an

Assessment at the gate so you know there are as well as wearing masks on board the the aircraft so so there are sort of a multi-layered approach to to to reduce the miss the risk as much as possible and dr Cheung maybe you could weigh in

Since you come at this from from the medical perspective on the middle see now this is not just an Air Canada issue this isn't this an airline broadly speaking issue I mean obviously airlines are financially challenged right now but

It felt like many in the industry moved away from having essentially that social distancing and in the seating on the plans as quickly as it was implemented for those who are wondering about traveling and I've heard that you

Know middle seats are no longer going to be empty what would you say well I'd say it's an individual decision or choice what we've decided to do in Air Canada is to advise our passengers who are booked and

Checked in if the local capacity is beyond seventy percent who to allow them to rebook if they're uncomfortable with that having said that the seat distancing really you know middle seat is only really 18 inches on separation

And additional 18 inches and I would go back to looking at the data and the evidence on an onboard transmission and you know the there to my knowledge there have not been any cluster outbreaks on board any Canadian aircraft knowing in

My discussions with various public health officials and this is because you know it's even going back to February March when we had a lot of travel and a lot of passengers traveling without all these onboard precautions and we have

Currently and when we were you know they were probably likely more cases dr Cheung beyond having this conversation with the federal government is Air Canada having a dialogue with big corporations and businesses as well

Obviously your CEO kill and Rove and ask you has talked about how hard the industry has been hit and how long it will take to get back to some kind of normal well individual travelers might be you know hungry to travel again some

Companies have had blanket policies during the pandemic which might extend for the next year or so so do you equally have to have a conversation with business customers and and the corporate companies that are okaying that travel

Right now about the the health and safety risks yeah I fully appreciate their concerns and concerns as well I think those discussions that are going on going with their commercial branch with the

With their corporate clients but that's outside of my purview dr Chung thanks for your time we appreciate it thank you dr Jim Chung is the chief medical officer at Air Canada

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