Flyers into Canada to be required to test negative before arrival
The federal government's plan to require air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before landing in Canada will discourage what little globe-trotting there is, say Calgary travel agents.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc says cabinet ministers decided Wednesday morning to quickly enact the new requirement.
All passengers on flights entering Canada will soon require a negative PCR test three days before their arrival.
Leblanc didn't say when the requirement will be in place but under it, arrivals into the country will still be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
That will have a particular effect on Canadians' willingness to leave the country, say local travel agents.
“People who want to go away, now they're saying you'll have to find a test in a foreign country,” said Robin Zayonce of Marlin Travel, adding the rule will likely smother a stirring among Calgarians to consider travelling.
“We were just getting phone calls (again).”
And she said the lack of details in the new measure only creates “panic” among prospective travellers.
Travel agent Heather Turner said she suspects it's a tool for Ottawa to reduce international travel, which it's been trying to do since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It's absolutely another way to discourage it. When you have to get test results back in 72 hours in a foreign country, it's just another layer of making things complicated,” said Turner.
“But it's really not surprising — the government's taken a lot of criticism for not closing the border.”
As the pandemic drags on, she said the measure will likely be followed by others, such as pandemic travel certificates adopted by various countries.
The announcement follows criticism that federal travel restrictions and quarantine rules have been too lax.
It also comes as Ontario's finance minister finds himself in hot water for travelling out of the country despite Canadians being asked to avoid such trips.
The Alberta government on Wednesday said the new rule won't affect a pilot project at the Calgary International Airport and Coutts border crossing, where COVID-19 tests are offered, with two negative results ensuring a shorter mandatory quarantine period.
“Alberta has had good success with the border pilot, and we were assured today that the federal government continues to support the pilot,” Alberta Health spokeswoman Jessica Lucenko said in an email.
“The new pre-departure testing introduced by the federal government does not replace the need to quarantine on arrival or undergo testing if an individual wishes to be in our pilot.”
After 10 weeks, the voluntary program had tested 18,021 people as of Dec. 17, with a positive rate of 1.15 per cent after the two swabs.
It's to last six months or until it reaches 52,000 passengers tested.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney touted the program's value and said it should be expanded across the country.
“We're able to pick up those who test positive right away, which enables us to intervene more quickly,” he said. Airlines, he added, have already been “very responsible ... they're practising the greatest diligence possible” in preventing the spread of infection among passengers.
Calgary-based Westjet was reviewing the new restriction and awaiting more details on Wednesday before commenting more substantially, said spokeswoman Morgan Bell.
“Westjet was not informed of nor consulted regarding changes to Canadian entrance requirements and eagerly awaits further details from the Government of Canada on COVID PCR testing,” she said in a statement.
“We reassure travellers that until more information is available, there is no change to current travel requirements for entrance to Canada.”
The new testing rule does not appear to apply to anyone crossing by car into Canada through a border point with the United States.
Several other countries, including the U.S., have implemented a negative test requirement for incoming passengers.
The identification of new strains of COVID-19 in the U.K. and South Africa has only heightened concerns about cross-border spread of the virus.
The government had months to implement a similar system in Canada but instead rolled out a haphazard announcement in response to headlines, said Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel.
“Our MP offices have already been receiving inquiries this morning from panicked travellers abroad on this new requirement,” she said in a statement Wednesday.