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WestJet-YVR COVID-19 Testing Study Demonstrates Rapid Antigen Testing is Effective in Screening Travellers and Contributing to Healthy Air Travel

Research conducted by UBC and Providence Health Care at YVR shows extremely low risk of transmission of COVID-19 in airline passengers on domestic flights

Today, Vancouver Airport Authority and WestJet released study findings showing that rapid antigen testing is an effective, acceptable and cost-efficient method for screening travellers and contributes to safer and healthier air travel. The findings were proven through the YVR-WestJet COVID-19 Testing Study, a research project led by the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Providence Health Care (Providence) alongside project sponsors, WestJet and the Vancouver Airport Authority.

Over a four-month period, from November 2020 through February 2021, nearly 600 departing passengers at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) were tested for COVID-19 using rapid antigen testing. All tests administered during this period were negative, leading researchers to conclude that transmissible infection in airline passengers departing from YVR is likely to be extremely low (less than one per cent). Methodology and study findings could contribute to a future testing framework for the broader travel industry.

Researchers from UBC and Providence were responsible for collecting samples in a ready-made testing station. Results gathered were further validated through PCR testing in a lab environment.

Participant feedback was resoundingly positive, with many saying the procedure was efficient, more comfortable than expected and instilled confidence about the safety of their travels. The research team found the test itself took approximately 15 to 20 minutes, resulting in minimal disruption to the overall travel experience.

The study, located at WestJet’s domestic check-in area at YVR, was open to WestJet guests who are residents of British Columbia, between the ages of 19 and 80, and who had not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days. Guests had to be flying domestically and testing was available on the day of travel only.

Quotes:

“We’re pleased to see the results of our joint study with WestJet, UBC and Providence Health Care and are grateful to passengers for their participation. It demonstrates the commitment and interest from our community in rapid testing solutions. Data gathered will be used for future testing strategies for the aviation industry, adding another layer of science-based health protocols to help reopen travel in a safe and efficient manner and to restore confidence amongst travellers. We’re also hopeful that our study results will go beyond aviation and prove useful across other industries as we move through the pandemic.”

Tamara Vrooman, President & CEO, Vancouver Airport Authority.

 

“Thank you to the almost 600 guests who took part in the WestJet-YVR COVID-19 testing study this past winter. While not mandatory, your actions contributed to helping our partners at UBC and Providence Health determine that the use of rapid antigen testing is an effective part of a safe travel journey. While the vaccine continues to rollout, testing adds an additional and scientifically-sound layer to our already rigorous health and hygiene measures and can help restore confidence in not only travel, but in activities across all parts of our communities.”  

Billy Nolen, Vice-President Health, Safety and Quality Assurance, WestJet.

 

“Rapid antigen testing is a critically important tool – and perhaps an underutilized tool – in our ability to prevent and control COVID-19.  The findings from our study provide further evidence that this technology can be successfully deployed in an airport setting, and that rapid antigen testing performs surprisingly well – even in a low- prevalence population, such as air travelers.”

Dr. Marc Romney, Co-principal Investigator; Clinical Associate Professor, UBC Faculty of Medicine; Medical Leader for Medical Microbiology and Virology at St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care.

 

“These findings provide real-world evidence that rapid antigen testing is a highly effective way of screening for passengers who may be carrying the COVID virus. The results provide passengers with greater confidence of healthy air travel.” 

Dr. Don Sin, Co-principal Investigator; Professor, UBC Faculty of Medicine; Respirologist, Providence Health Care.

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