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Monday,  April 15, 2024 8:58 AM 

Canada ends pre-entry testing for fully-vaxxed travellers as COVID wave looms

Canada ends pre-entry testing for fully-vaxxed travellers as COVID wave looms
Canada ended pre-entry testing for fully vaccinated travellers on Friday (April 1). (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

It’s the day Canadian travellers have been waiting for. And it’s not an April Fools’ Day prank.

Starting today, (Friday, April 1), the Government of Canada officially drops its pre-entry COVID-19 testing requirement for all fully vaccinated travellers entering the country.

The cringeworthy tickle of a swab up the nose before boarding a flight to Canada, the stress of possibly getting stuck in a destination for extra days due to a positive return-home test. Hallelujah, that ends today.  

Federal officials announced it would do away with pre-entry testing two weeks ago and Canadian travel advisors have already seen a big spike in bookings as consumer confidence returns. 

“It’s a whole new world this year,” Calgary, AB-based Tannis Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis, told PAX yesterday. “Last year, we had so many restrictions and quarantine measures. Now we’re not dealing with that, so people are saying, ‘Let’s just go.’”

READ MORE: “Buckle up!”: Travel pros rejoice over lifting of pre-arrival tests; demand booms amid low inventory

What’s driving Dyrland’s business are high-priced adventures (“People have travel money sitting aside,” she noted) to global destinations like Bora Bora, Italy (“Cooking classes are a big one,” she said) and high school graduation trips to Europe that never happened in 2020 and 2021.

Tannis Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis. (Supplied)

Generally speaking, the demand for European FIT this summer “has been unreal,” Dyrland said, noting that the Russia-Ukraine conflict hasn’t slowed sales.

“It’s just really wonderful to see people confident again and understanding the value of a skilled travel agent who has the ability to create opportunities like this,” Dyrland said.

Shalene Dudley, owner of Oakville, ON-based Latitude Concierge Travels, previously told PAX that client requests were piling up long before the government’s March 17th announcement.

She’s just grateful she has a team ready to go, because “there’s no way I, [alone], would have been able to handle the amount, volume, and turnaround time we’re experiencing right now.”

Jamaica, Mexico, Saint Lucia and “idyllic locations around the globe” are among the top-requested destinations in Dudley’s inbox these days.

Shalene Dudley, owner of Oakville, ON-based Latitude Concierge Travels. (Supplied)

But as pent-up demand takes hold, inventory has become scarce, said Dudley, who is urgently exploring new hotels for clients because the traditionally popular options just aren’t available.

“We have to be prepared,” she said.

On-arrival testing remains

Despite the easing of border rules, travellers could still be randomly tested when they arrive in Canada.

But unlike the restriction introduced in November when the Omicron wave began, they will not have to quarantine while awaiting their test results.

READ MORE: Canada is ending pre-arrival testing for fully-vaxxed travellers on April 1

Canada’s vaccine mandate for planes, trains and ships remains in place and pre-entry testing still applies to partially or unvaccinated travellers.

Travellers in this group will also continue to receive a PCR test on arrival and must test again on day eight while they quarantine for 14 days.

A return to normal

But the end of pre-arrival testing is, without a doubt, an important step forward in resuscitating Canada’s crippled travel and tourism sector.

Industry pros have long argued that any form of pre-arrival testing is a barrier to international travel.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable has repeatedly called border testing a “non-science-based” obstacle, leaning on Ottawa’s own COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel, which, in May 2021, advised to eliminate pre-arrival testing for fully-vaxxed travellers.

Industry pros have long argued that any form of pre-arrival testing is a barrier to international travel. (Shutterstock/Shawn Goldberg)

Earlier this month, the Roundtable, a coalition of industry leaders, said the end of pre-arrival testing will bring Canada “into better alignment with other major countries,” and recognize that the Canadian travel industry “has long been among the country's safest, and brings the industry closer to a return to normal.”

All travellers must still use ArriveCAN to enter Canada, mind you, and fully vaccinated cruise passengers in the country will not be required take a test before disembarking their ship.

Lifting the vaccine mandate

Meanwhile, Ottawa now face questions about when Canada’s vaccine mandate will be lifted.

The policy, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced last October, was addressed earlier this month by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who said the federal vaccine mandate is being reviewed.

But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos quickly shut down notions that the rule would be lifted soon, telling the House of Commons’ health committee on March 21 that it would be “irresponsible” at this stage to unveil a timeline.

READ MORE: Lifting vaccine mandate “irresponsible” at this stage, Duclos says; ACTA says policy is “burdensome”

Other countries have begun to ease restrictions for unvaccinated travellers, with the United Kingdom, Sweden and Aruba being among the latest to scrap all COVID--19 rules at their borders.

The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) position is that governments should allow pre-departure antigen testing, and quarantine-free travel, for non-vaccinated travellers.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. (File photo)

IATA is also calling for the removal of all travel bans in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread.

Avery Campbell, director of advocacy and industry relations at the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), previously told PAX that all barriers to travel impact travel agency and independent travel agent recovery.

“The Government of Canada must follow the best available science when developing COVID-19 policies while recognizing the devastating impact barriers have on travel and tourism businesses,” Campbell said earlier this month. 

"The requirement for vaccination against COVID-19 on federally regulated transportation is a burdensome regulation that should be re-assessed in the context of broad community immunity, scientific evidence, and the goal of supporting Canada’s economic recovery." 

Cross your fingers, cross your toes

But despite advancements in easing restrictions, COVID-19 is still “unstable,” Dr. Tam warned earlier this month, advising officials to wait and see if a resurgence happens, especially as a sub-mutation of Omicron, called BA.2, takes hold in other countries.

Reports that Canada is heading into a potential “sixth wave” of COVID-19 this spring have already begun to surface.

Average daily case counts have levelled off nationally, but there’s still regional variability across the country with several communities reporting increases, Dr. Tam said in her weekly update last Friday (March 25).

Public health officials in Ontario and Quebec have already declared a sixth wave as cases of coronavirus rise.

In Ontario specifically, there are no plans to reintroduce mandatory masking or pause the reopening strategy, Minister of Health Christine Elliott said Thursday.

"At this point it doesn't appear necessary that we need to take any further precautions," Elliott told reporters.

Still, if the epidemiological situation escalates, it’s possible federal officials could reinstate travel restrictions. (They’ve done it before). 

Two weeks ago, Minister Duclos said "it's fair to say that we are now entering a transition phase of this pandemic," noting high vaccination rates, the availability of rapid testing and treatments that prevent people from getting very sick.

However: “Let us remember that all measures are subject to review.”

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