EDMONTON — Alberta is ramping up screening of international visitors to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Premier Jason Kenney says that starting immediately foreign travellers arriving at airports in Edmonton and Calgary will have their temperature checked using an infrared camera. Starting next week, the plan is to use thermal imagers which can provide more detailed results.
Travellers must also provide a detailed plan on how they will self-isolate for 14 days.
In two weeks, similar screening is to be set up at the United States border crossing at Coutts, Alta.
"Given that airports and border crossings remain a high-risk vector for transmission, and at the same time a crucial part of the infrastructure needed to get our economy moving, we need to do more," Kenney said Wednesday.
Despite severely reduced travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, about 400 people still arrive weekly at Alberta airports from abroad, mainly through Calgary, Kenney said.
About 90 per cent of land arrivals from the U.S. come through Coutts, which is just north of Montana.
Canada and the U.S. have extended their border closure for non-essential travel to June 21, although truckers with goods are allowed through, as are certain workers and Canadians returning home.
Kenney said people screened will get a followup phone call three days after arrival to make sure they are following the self-isolation plan and have the means to do so.
If the plan is deemed inadequate, the province will help the traveller meet isolation requirements, including lodging if necessary.
There will also be added health measures at airports, including enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of arrival lounges and high-touch surfaces. More hand sanitizer will be made available.
The precautions were promised earlier by Kenney as a prerequisite to reopening the economy. Alberta has flattened the curve on novel coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, but Kenney has said vigilance on distancing and hygiene are critical.
On Wednesday, the province announced 19 new cases but no additional deaths. Of a total 6,735 infections, 5,637 people have recovered and 128 have died.
"It will be many months before we can expect effective anti-viral treatments or vaccine that ends the threat of COVID-19," Kenney said.
"In the meantime, the new normal will involve protective protocols like the ones we're introducing today."
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, added: "Even though our travel volumes have decreased, we do continue to see imported cases.
"While we're cautiously relaunching here and in other places, COVID is still out there. It's still circulating around the world."
Alberta began relaunching its economy last week. Retailers and day cares were allowed to reopen, subject to health restrictions.
In all areas — except the hard-hit areas of Brooks and Calgary — restaurants, at half capacity, and hair salons were also allowed to resume services.
Residents of Brooks and Calgary are to be allowed to eat at a restaurant or get a haircut starting Monday, barring a renewed spike in COVID-19 cases.
The next stage of Alberta's relaunch is set for June 19, when movie theatres, spas and related businesses are to get the green light.
Outdoor public gatherings were expanded last week, but are limited to no more than 50 people who must still physical distance.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press