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Wednesday,  May 22, 2024 7:38 PM 

Canada extends COVID measures for travellers from China to early April

Canada extends COVID measures for travellers from China to early April
(File photo)
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.

Canada’s COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers from China, Hong Kong and Macau – which were set to expire this Saturday – will be extended to April 5, 2023, 12:01 a.m. EDT, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

The reason for the extension is due to an “increasing spread” of COVID-19 and its variants in China and limited data sharing on these cases, PHAC said in a statement Thursday (Feb. 2).

“Despite the data provided by China thus far, on-going gaps in data availability remain a significant concern,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos stated. “Extending these temporary health measures will provide time for new, reliable data sources to be made available and allow time for expected domestic waves in China to subside.”

Canada’s COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers from China, Hong Kong and Macau will be extended to April 5, PHAC says. (File photo)

Since Jan. 5, air travellers arriving in Canada on flights originating from the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong or Macau that are two years of age and older have been required to present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding the aircraft to Canada.

Tests can be either a negative molecular (PCR) test, or a negative antigen test administered by a telehealth service or an accredited lab or testing provider.

Passengers who have tested positive more than 10 days before their departure flight, but no more than 90 days, may provide their airline with documentation of their prior positive, in place of a negative test result

The requirement applies regardless of one’s vaccination status, and if a traveller fails to provide the proper documents, they will be denied boarding, Ottawa says.

“Knee-jerk reactions”

China abandoning its COVID zero strategy has led to a wave of new infections in the country, and in response, the world has responded with new (but familiar) travel measures.

Several countries, including the United States, Australia, France, Spain and England, have also tightened COVID rules for flights from China.

But these new measures have faced criticism: in particular, from the International Air Transport Association's (IATA's) Director General Willie Walsh.

“It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years,” Walsh said in a statement in early January.

READ MORE: IATA's director general slams “ineffective” travel restrictions on China

Medical experts in Canada have also cast doubt on the effectiveness of pre-departure testing.

Willie Walsh, director general, IATA. (Supplied)

Speaking with the Canadian Press on Jan. 1, Kerry Bowman, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine, called Canada's testing requirement for China "absolutely a political move, and not based on science at this point."

"This isn't the early days of the pandemic," Bowman told CP. "So, I do think it's largely political."

READ MORE: Canada to require COVID-19 testing for flights from China starting Jan. 5

Bowman, who teaches bioethics and global health, added that "point of entry screening is not very effective at all."

"Often people can test positive days and weeks later," Bowman was quoted as saying.

A study released by Canadian doctors last September also found that there is "no convincing evidence" that pre-departure (and on-arrival) testing have a significant impact on local transmission of COVID-19 in Canada.

Canadians support it, survey says

Still, it seems Canadians are supportive of the testing policy – even if they’re unsure if it will be effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.

According to a recent survey of 1,611 Canadian adults by the Angus Reid Institute, Canadians who support the policy (77%) outnumber those who are opposed (16%) by nearly five-to-one.

READ MORE: Canadians support testing travellers from China, but question its efficacy: poll

Among those who support the rule, fewer than half (44%) say they believe it will be effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The China-specific travel rule has also sparked social concerns.

Some, including the Chinese government, have called it discriminatory, while others have called it downright racist.

According to Angus Reid’s survey, some worry Canada’s travel policy for China will “rekindle ugly sentiments.”

One-in-eight (13%) Canadians call the policy racist. However, more (73%) believe it’s not.

Canadians who identify as visible minorities are twice as likely to label the policy racist (23%) than those who don’t identify as such (10%), the survey says.

Still, the majority of those who identify as visible minority (62%) and those who don’t (76%) say the policy is not racist.

Cross-border travel resumes

Meanwhile, China said on Friday (Feb. 3) that cross-border travel between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau would fully resume from Feb. 6, dropping a mandatory COVID-19 test that was previously required, Reuters reports

Group tours between China and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau would resume, while the number of customs checkpoints open will return to pre-pandemic levels, China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a statement. 

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