False positive COVID-19 test delays passengers for hours at Iqaluit airport

Around 100 passengers on a flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit were delayed for nearly three hours at the Iqaluit airport Wednesday, after a positive COVID-19 test for one of the passengers onboard was brought to the attention of the government of Nunavut — after the flight had already taken off. 

The test turned out to be a false positive, according to a government of Nunavut spokesperson and passengers have returned home. They had been isolated in the secure area of the Iqaluit airport. 

The person whose test it was, was participating in the “expedited medical travel” program, which allows Nunavummiut to fly South for medical appointments and return to the territory without completing the usually required 14-day hotel isolation.

In a statement, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said the person began their trip on Sunday and took a COVID-19 test on Monday. 

The individual was taken to Qikiqtani General Hospital and isolated, where two follow-up tests were administered. Both the GeneXpert machine and BioFire machine returned negative results, according to a government of Nunavut official briefing the passengers isolating at the airport.  

There are no other active cases in the territory. 

The government of Nunavut got positive COVID-19 test results for a passenger onboard Canadian North flight FAB101 from Ottawa to Iqaluit after the flight took off. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

Isolated passengers ‘hungry and annoyed’

The first briefing by government officials to passengers on Canadian North flight FAB101 came around two hours after the plane landed in Iqaluit. 

Maurice Lamothe was one of those passengers. He said he was just looking forward to going home because he was hungry. 

He said breakfast bags were handed out early Wednesday morning before he left the hotel in Ottawa where he and many others on the plane had been isolating before returning to Nunavut. 

That bag was taken from him at airport security, so he said all he’d eaten was a cookie. The government distributed chocolate bars around 2:30 p.m. 

‘We don’t want to be the patient zero of Iqaluit’

For much of the pandemic, the government of Nunavut has contracted several hotels in southern cities to house Nunavut residents to isolate for two weeks before they fly back to the territory. 

These isolated people were on the flight with the person travelling as part of the expedited medical travel program. 

“It’s too bad, our two weeks, in the hotel, were a kind of fail, finally … we don’t want to be the patient zero of Iqaluit. It’s not funny,” Lamothe said in French.  

Speaking before the briefing, he said there was a lot of anxiety in the area of the airport where passengers were being held. 

“The people here are just asking what’s going on. They haven’t told us very much. They’ve said nothing, so we’re guessing. We’ve heard someone has tested positive, so all sorts of stories are going through our heads,” Lamothe said.  

Preston Bromley is another person who isolated at an Ottawa hotel before getting on Wednesday’s flight. 

“We understand that mistakes happen, but our main question is whether this was policy to allow expedited medical passengers on the plane without a negative test result in hand or whether it was a mistake at some point in the process.”

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