B.C.'s top doctor says contact tracing on flights is 'a challenge', as airport CEO says it's safe to fly
A unique look at the Vancouver International Airport. (Chopper 9/Pete Cline)
VANCOUVER -- While B.C.'s top doctor says getting accurate contact tracing on flights has been an ongoing challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, the new CEO at Vancouver's airport says it's safe to fly.
Vancouver International Airport's new CEO, Tamara Vrooman, says the airport's cleaning protocols are "one of the best kept secrets." She also says people don't realize "how safe it is to actually transit if you need to, through an airport and onto an aircraft."
"To the best of my knowledge … there's not a single confirmed case of transmission aboard an aircraft in this country since the outbreak," she said.
Vrooman's comments come during a week when health officials confirmed possible COVID-19 exposure on several more flights through YVR, and announced that three screening officers tested positive for the virus.
But Vrooman said those officers didn't catch the virus at work.
"Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed with us yesterday that there's no risk to the public," she said.
While Vrooman is confident about the safety of flying during the pandemic, B.C.'s top doctor says she's made recommendations to Transport Canada to improve contact tracing procedures.
"It would shock you to see what we get from the airlines when we request a flight manifest," she said Tuesday.
"They can tell you how much anybody paid for that specific seat. So the information is being collected for a different purpose. And when we need that information to know who's around, all they know is it's somebody who paid $66 for that seat."
Air Canada told CTV News Vancouver last month that it provides flight manifests to any Canadian health authority upon request within 24 hours, but added it has not received any such requests recently.
Henry confirmed health officials no longer request flight manifests from airlines, but when they did back in March, "it took days to get them."
She also said it's been a challenge to get information from "every airline."
"They may think they provide information but I can show you the sheets that we get," she said.
Vrooman said she's aware of discussions happening between airlines, the federal government and local health officials on the issue.
"We support the ready access to information so that the public can be alerted," she said.
"My understanding is that the airlines are working through that with public health officials."
Earlier this week, the BC Centre for Disease Control added four more flights to its list of COVID-19 exposures.
B.C. health officials no longer directly contact people who were seated near a confirmed case of COVID-19 on a domestic flight. Instead, the BCCDC provides updates on flights with confirmed cases as it becomes aware of them.
But Henry said she'd like a system in place that allows officials to contact travellers directly if there's risk of exposure.
"We need to have a system that allows us to identify people rapidly," she said. "It really is a disconnect in the system."