Press release

Research will explore the efficiency of rapid PCR and antigen testing, with eligible airport workers and passengers who volunteer to receive COVID-19 testing

TORONTO - The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) continued its leadership in supporting COVID-19 testing research today, when it announced a robust new COVID-19 PCR and antigen testing research program at Toronto Pearson. The program, which starts on March 1, is supported in part by funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP). It is designed to explore the efficacy of antigen testing, compared with the rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, in a high-throughput, commercial environment, as well as the operationalization of rapid PCR testing in an airport environment.

Throughout Toronto Pearson's Healthy Airport transformation, the GTAA has remained committed to a science and data-driven approach, guided by experts in healthcare, diagnostic testing, public health, and industry. This initiative further deepens the GTAA's focus on contributing to local and national economic recovery, while protecting the community. The findings of this study may have application in other settings, including schools and workplaces.

"The GTAA continues to demonstrate its commitment and leadership in the exploration of the science of COVID-19 testing. Science is at the heart of our Healthy Airport commitment and we are pleased to receive this support from NRC IRAP on this additional testing program, as we pursue further innovation here at Toronto Pearson," said Deborah Flint, President and CEO, GTAA. "This research will contribute substantial new scientific data to the body of knowledge used to fight this disease by improving access to testing that will identify, trace and isolate COVID-19."

The GTAA looks forward to working with Fionet Rapid Response Group (FRR), a joint venture between Fio Corporation and Relay Medical Corp, who will deploy its digital workflow, testing, and data infrastructure for execution and oversight of this program.

“We’re privileged to partner with the GTAA to fight back against a pandemic that has devastated lives and economies,” said Dr. Michael Greenberg, CEO of Fionet Rapid Response Group Inc and of Fio Corporation. “FRR and our collaborators, MedeVaq and OnPoint1 Health, are eager to execute this impactful mission made possible by the Government of Canada.”

Today's announcement heralds the creation of new point-of-need testing capacity at the airport. The GTAA will work with a team of Canadian healthcare companies to run a ten-week antigen test study at Toronto Pearson. The study will make free COVID-19 tests available to employees, as well as testing for eligible passengers on select routes who are willing to volunteer as participants. The study will begin accepting volunteers on March 1. Clinical analysis of test swabs will take place on-site at the airport, using LuminUltra's rapid PCR test, with results provided to the participant within two hours. Participants will also be tested using Response Biomedical rapid antigen tests. Integration of these testing technologies, passenger processes, and all data flows will be managed by the Fionet Platform.

For airport workers, many of whom live in communities adjacent to the airport, taking part in this research will help to identify, trace and isolate COVID-19 at work and at home in the communities that surround the airport. Airport worker testing is the latest development in the GTAA's ongoing commitment to being proactive and transparent in protecting the airports' workforce. Toronto Pearson was the first Canadian airport to receive Airports Council International's global health accreditation for its Healthy Airport program and was one of the first major airports globally to publish an airport-wide COVID-19 employee case log.

"The GTAA is one of the City of Mississauga's strongest partners and this study demonstrates its strong commitment to protecting the thousands of Mississauga residents who work at Pearson, as well as their families," said Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie. "What makes this study particularly important is that its findings could be applicable to other work settings, not only in Mississauga but across Ontario and the entire country. This is yet another example of the GTAA being on the cutting edge of innovation and community safety. I want to thank the GTAA, as well as the Government of Canada, for launching this timely study at Pearson and the Government of Ontario for providing rapid tests."

A second study will run in parallel to the federally funded study to compare antigen and rapid PCR tests. The second research stream, the Workplace Antigen Testing Study, will explore the viability of frequent antigen testing within a workforce as a method to quickly identify, trace and isolate COVID-19. By testing multiple times per week over multiple weeks, researchers will be able to study how frequent use of antigen tests can improve workplace safety by reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. The study will use Abbot's Panbio rapid antigen test, provided by the Province of Ontario to conduct this research. The study will draw on the expertise of three renowned Canadian epidemiologists and researchers affiliated with the University of Toronto, University Health Network and Unity Health Toronto: Dr. Kevin Schwartz, Dr. Prabhat Jha and Dr. Isaac Bogoch. Their work at Toronto Pearson will have applications for scaling up rapid testing in other workplace settings. The Workplace Antigen Testing Study will recruit volunteer participants from Toronto Pearson's airport worker community. Participants will receive multiple antigen tests per week for a period of approximately eight weeks. 

"Frequent, rapid testing for screening of asymptomatic people is an important layer among other essential public health measures to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. We are excited to be supporting the GTAA and their partners in evaluating rapid testing of employees to build on our current knowledge on how to safely and effectively implement these tools," said Kevin Schwartz, infectious disease physician at Unity Health Toronto and the University of Toronto.

These new streams of research are the latest programs that the GTAA has helped to lead, advancing the cause of COVID-19 testing and research. In September 2020, the GTAA co-sponsored the globally recognized McMaster HealthLabs International Border Study at Toronto Pearson. The interim results of that study have been instrumental in the continuing public policy discussion around arrivals testing as an effective protective layer against COVID-19.

For more information about the program, go to torontopearson.com/testing. A media backgrounder is available, as well, with more specific details on the program's operations.

 

Additional Quotes

"LuminUltra is proud to provide our made-in-Canada COVID-19 testing solution to the GTAA. Our rapid, on-site qPCR technology provides real-time insight into the health of staff and passengers, helping to prevent further spread and acting as the gold-standard comparison for the study. Continued investigation into how to best serve our workplaces is essential as we continue to navigate this pandemic." – Pat Whalen, President & CEO, LuminUltra

"Response Biomedical is pleased to be part of the pilot research program with our partners at GTAA. Our RAMP® COVID-19 antigen test will be used to provide essential data required to determine the utility of on-site antigen testing in an airport setting," said Barb Kinnaird, CEO of Response Biomedical Corp. "We are proud to be part of the global efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and have scaled our manufacturing to support a made-in-Canada initiative to fight the pandemic."

 

About the Greater Toronto Airports Authority

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is the operator of Toronto Pearson International Airport. Toronto Pearson served more than 50 million passengers in 2019, making it Canada's busiest airport. 

For more information, please visit Toronto Pearson on Twitter (English and French), Facebook or Instagram

For further information: Contact: GTAA Media | media.relations@gtaa.com | (416) 776-3709  

 
 
 
 

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