LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. -- The Alberta and Canadian governments have announced a pilot project that will relax quarantine requirements for International travellers entering Canada. The project will test the feasibility of using rapid COVID-19 testing and close monitoring, as a strategy to reduce the mandatory 14 day quarantine period.

Currently, anyone returning to Canada is legally required to quarantine for two weeks. But starting November 2, travellers entering at the Coutts land crossing and the Calgary International Airport can take a rapid COVID test.

They will still need to isolate until results come in, which should take 24 to 48 hours. If the test is negative, they can leave isolation with the understanding they’ll get tested again in six or seven days.

Travellers will also need to remain in Alberta for 14 days and follow other health measures.

“Officials will be closely monitoring every participant to limit any risk of them creating increased exposure to Albertans,” said Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

“In addition to getting tested twice, each person will have to provide daily symptom check-ins, and will have to follow other enhanced preventative measures,” added Shandro.

Those include wearing a face mask in public places, and avoiding high risk settings where vulnerable Albertans reside.

Doug Schweizter, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, said any changes to public health measures must be supported by strong scientific evidence, but maintains the project is critical to getting back to a more normal life.

“Many of us have known we’d like to be able to do certain travel, but the impediment of having 14 days upon return simply made it not feasible.” Schweitzer said bringing the quarantine time down to 24 to 48 hours is critical, “So they have this certainty when they’re travelling that when they come back home, it’s going to be a very short turnaround time that they can get back to their normal lives.”

Jim Willett

Concerned about Montana

“I’ll have to go along with it,” said Coutts Mayor Jim Willett. He has been a supporter of the federal government’s decision to extend travel restrictions and not reopen the border too soon.

“I’m nervous because I’ve got an older population here, and we’ve managed to keep COVID-19 out of the village, and I worry.”

Willett is concerned about the high number of cases in Montana, pointing out two counties just south of the border currently have 120 and 300 active cases. “So I am nervous about any loosening of restrictions.”

But he said if proper testing is done, and health officials follow up on quarantines, then he’s prepared to accept the science behind the project.

Mayor Willett said most travellers returning to Canada don’t stop in Coutts so there isn’t a high risk to local residents that way. He also realizes how important travellers are to Alberta’s economy, and understands the balancing act that’s going on.

Willett said as long as the project is backed by science, and supported by doctors, he’s prepared to go along with it. “If the doctor says that’s good, I’ll be cautiously optimistic.”