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Border agents not trained for COVID-19 screening at YVR, union says
VANCOUVER -- The union representing border service officials across the country is lobbying Health Canada to send more qualified health screeners to Vancouver International Airport since they themselves are not trained to monitor for signs of COVID-19.
Customs and Immigration Union national president Jean-Pierre Fortin says there are only two or three Health Canada staff members at YVR and often no quarantine officers on site. They desperately need more to keep airport workers and the public safe.
“If we see someone is coughing, sweating a lot and we think that person could be sick, obviously, immediately we will be isolating the person and refer the person to Health Canada,” said Fortin.
In an email statement to CTV News on screening at the airport, Canada Border Services Agency said: “CBSA officers remain vigilant and are highly trained to identify travellers seeking entry into Canada who may pose a health and safety risk.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada insists there are between three and six trained screening officers on shift at any given time at YVR and that there are one or two quarantine officers on site between 7:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.
But Fortin and frontline workers alike say CBSA officers aren’t trained to detect the novel coronavirus' symptoms at all, and are currently relying on goggles, gloves, N-95 masks and physical distance to keep themselves safe. Meanwhile, two officers have tested positive for COVID-19, in Ontario and Quebec.
YVR is one of only four airports in the country still authorized to accept international flights, including Canadians and their families who’ve been travelling abroad; the majority of B.C.’s COVID-19 infections have been linked to international travel.
“We are working closely with Health Canada and the (Public Health Agency of Canada) to screen travellers, anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms is referred to a PHAC staff member for further evaluation,” wrote CBSA.
But with no more than half a dozen PHAC staffers to service an airport the size of YVR, even with reduced travel volume, Fortin worries about the risk of transmission for his members and the general public alike.A
“We don’t have the [pretence] to be health experts, far from it,” said Fortin. “We need clear directions to make sure we’re monitoring the people.”
Not to mention, knowing how to avoid becoming vectors for further infections themselves or losing more members to illness or self-isolation due to exposure.
“I want to make sure that the first line of defence for our country remains safe,” emphasized Fortin.