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Monday,  April 15, 2024 8:21 AM 

Canada’s new travel rules kick in as Ottawa faces ongoing pressure to drop pre-arrival testing

Canada’s new travel rules kick in as Ottawa faces ongoing pressure to drop pre-arrival testing
Toronto Pearson International Airport. (Pax Global Media/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 new travel rules kicked in Monday (Feb. 28), giving people entering the country new options that will save time and money.

Ottawa’s recently-unveiled suite of lightened border measures will allow fully-vaccinated people, arriving to Canada from any country, to opt for a cheaper and faster rapid antigen test to meet their pre-arrival screening requirement.

Previously, PCR tests, which cost more and take longer to process, were the only available option. 

Antigen tests can be taken “anytime on the day of or before travel,” which is similar to how the United States operates, as it was clarified last week.

READ MORE: “A great first step,” but testing still deters travel: mixed industry reactions to border update

Taking a rapid antigen test at home is "not sufficient" to meet the pre-entry requirement, the government notes on its website.

"It must be authorized by the country in which it was purchased and must be administered by a laboratory, healthcare entity or telehealth service."

Travellers can also go the molecular (PCR) test route, just as long as their test is taken no more than 72 hours before their scheduled flight or arrival at a land border.

 Ottawa’s updated rules, which kicked in at 12:01 a.m. (EST) on Monday, also include:

  • A return to randomized on-arrival testing at airports. Travellers, if selected for testing, will not be required to self-isolate while awaiting results.
  • Unvaccinated children under the age of 12 travelling with fully vaccinated adults will no longer be required to self-isolate or avoid school, camp, daycare of other public spaces upon entry to Canada nor will they be subjected to testing.

(Click here for an official government overview).

There is no change or easing of rules for unvaccinated travellers. 

Canada’s ban on international flights at all remaining airports that normally receive international flights was also lifted today.

Adding to this, federal officials have downgraded Canada’s travel advisory on non-essential travel from level three to level two.

Drop pre-arrival testing 

Despite the welcomed affordability of antigen tests, Ottawa still faces pressure from the travel industry to drop pre-arrival testing altogether.

Earlier this month, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) called the changes “an important step forward” but also made a case for lifting all pre-departure testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.

“Rapid antigen tests are an additional cost and often difficult to procure. All testing requirements create uncertainty and deter travel. There is no scientific basis to single-out travel for testing,” said ACTA President Wendy Paradis on Feb. 15.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, a coalition of travel and tourism leaders, including ACTA, says the Government of Canada has “missed an opportunity” to align with other international jurisdictions that removed pre-departure test requirements for fully-vaccinated travellers.

READ MORE: ACTA clarifies “within 24 hours” wording for pre-arrival antigen tests

The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark and France, for instance, have removed all testing requirements at their borders

“With these changes, the travel and tourism sector continues to be the only industry subject to mandatory testing, despite being safer than everyday activities,” the Roundtable said on Feb. 15.

The Roundtable has been holding regular press conferences to amplify their call to remove non-science-based obstacles to travel.  

Earlier this month, the coalition was joined by two doctors from McMaster University who argued that there was no scientific reason to single out travel with COVID-19 testing at the border – especially now that the Omicron variant has spread widely throughout the country.

READ MORE: “Testing at the border does not make any sense”: Doctors call for removal of obsolete testing rules

"When first put in place, Canada's travel rules were designed to keep COVID-19 out of the country. Now that the virus is here and community spread is responsible for approximately 99 per cent of all infections, the rules governing travel are obsolete,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at McMaster, on Feb. 10. 

But federal officials say the further easing of border measures will only happen once pandemic conditions improve.

Dr. Dominik Mertz (left) and Dr. Zain Chagla (right) joined Beth Potter, co-chair of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable & president/CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (centre) at YYZ on Feb. 10.

"We must continue to exercise prudence," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told media last week. "Our fight against the virus is not over."

Air travellers who test positive while abroad still face barriers in getting back to Canada – they must wait at least 10 full days after they took their test before returning.

COVID-positive Canadians legally can’t be turned away at the land border, but may face fines of up to $5,000 for defying the rules.

Meanwhile, the Roundtable, alongside medical and business representatives, will hold another press conference today (Feb. 28) at 11 a.m. (MST) at Calgary International Airport to reapply pressure on Ottawa to remove pre-departure testing for fully vaccinated people.

“Testing targeted at one sector is both unnecessary and not rooted in science,” the Roundtable said in a statement.

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