The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is expressing "deep frustration" with Canada’s new COVID-19 testing requirement for all arriving air travellers.
The new rule, which officially starts Jan. 7, states that anyone arriving in Canada must have a negative COVID-19 PCR test before boarding, taken within 72 hours prior to the traveller’s scheduled departure.
While a negative test will grant entry into Canada, all travellers entering the country are still required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, a law that was first introduced in March.
In an interview CBC News, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that travellers that do not have a test result, when there are clinics available, "will have to reschedule their departure because they won't be allowed on board," he said.
"If, on the other hand, they can demonstrate...that there was no facility, then they can be admitted onboard," said Garneau.
Travellers that can prove that they were unable to get a test abroad will have to quarantine at a federally-approved facility upon their return to Canada for 14 days, Garneau told CBC.
In a statement issued on Sat., Jan. 2, IATA said that while the aviation industry, for months, has been calling for systematic testing to re-open borders without quarantine measures "these pleas have fallen on deaf ears, especially in Canada."
The "worst of both worlds"
IATA called Canada's new direction, which the Trudeau government formally announced on New Years Eve, the "worst of both worlds."
"The government is mandating that passengers provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within 72 hours before planned departure to Canada, while at the same time declining to lift existing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements," said IATA. "Under the new order, passengers who, despite their best efforts, are unable to obtain a pre-departure test, may travel to Canada, but will have to quarantine at a facility provided by the government at their first point of entry."
The association criticized the Trudeau government for not giving travellers and airlines enough time to plan also called the plan "unrealistic."
"It is both callous and impractical to impose this new requirement on travellers at such short notice," IATA said. "Moreover, it is completely unrealistic to mandate that airlines check passengers’ compliance with the new rule, as it cannot be the airline’s role to determine if a passenger tried their utmost to get tested or not."
Canada already has "one the world’s most draconian COVID-19 border control regimes, including travel bans and quarantines," said IATA.
"Even though COVID-19 testing is an internationally accepted risk-mitigation strategy, there are no plans to adjust the current 14-day quarantine rule nor eliminate the temperature checks airlines are required to perform on passengers wishing to travel to Canada."
"Moreover, no explanation has been provided as to why a PCR test is the only acceptable test, given that this is not readily available in many countries."
Replacing the quarantine
IATA's latest estimates show that the aviation sector’s direct GDP contribution to Canada’s economy dropped by US$10.39 billion in 2020 vs 2019, placing some 146,000 Canadian jobs at risk.
The year-on-year fall in GDP contribution to the wider travel and tourism economy is estimated at US$21.29 billion with some 286,000 jobs at risk.
IATA says that the way forward is through a "well-planned and coordinated introduction of testing inbound travellers, as a replacement for quarantine measures."
"At current infection levels, testing travellers will ensure that opening borders will not pose additional risk of contagion in Canada. We challenge the government to prove otherwise," IATA said.
The association is recommending the Canadian government to put the initiative on hold until it has defined:
- Testing requirements and coordinated with the industry to achieve realistic implementation timelines;
- A policy roadmap to safely re-open borders by managing the risk of contagion with testing as a replacement for quarantine measures
"We need to start 2021 by taking steps to safely live with COVID-19. What is the point of implementing testing if it does not result in a lifting of border closures nor quarantine requirements?" IATA said.
"After nine-months of closed borders and confinement, we cannot afford to move in the wrong direction with the disastrous implementation of a counter-productive testing policy."
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