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Air Canada starts COVID-19 testing at Toronto airport in push to open travel

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FILE PHOTO: Air Canada signage is pictured at Vancouver's international airport in Richmond,
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(Reuters) - Air Canada said on Thursday it has launched a voluntary COVID-19 study of international travelers coming into Toronto's Pearson Airport as part of a campaign to persuade the government to lift travel restrictions such as its 14-day quarantine.

Under the study, set to begin on Thursday, participating passengers will provide samples to be analysed for COVID-19 using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests upon arrival and in two follow-ups to establish how many travellers arrive infected.

"Our study will provide data to help determine if an airport-based COVID-19 surveillance program is feasible, whether self-collection of COVID-19 testing is effective, and to explore options regarding the 14-day quarantine for international travel," Air Canada said.

Canada's borders are now closed to all noncitizens except for essential workers, and Canadians who enter the country from abroad must self-isolate for two weeks.

Most carriers and airports around the world support the idea of testing to replace government-imposed quarantines. They believe a layered approach including steps like temperature checks, cleaning and mask-wearing can replace quarantines.

A U.N. aviation task force is expected to weigh in on one industry proposal at a meeting on Sept. 15, airline group IATA said.

Canada’s largest carrier said the month-long research project would be conducted with McMaster HealthLabs and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

Smaller rival WestJet recently announced its own testing plans for passengers departing Vancouver's international airport.

Reuters reported on Thursday that a coalition of major airlines have called on the U.S. and British governments to launch a coronavirus testing trial for passengers on flights between London and New York.

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sonya Hepinstall)