Canada’s new pre-departure COVID-19 test requirement for people flying from China, Hong Kong and Macao kicked in early Thursday (Jan. 5).
Travellers from the above destinations must test negative for COVID-19 before leaving for Canada, Ottawa says. The rule applies to travellers age two and up.
The new measure, which has faced criticism, comes in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases in China “and given the limited epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data available on these cases," the Government of Canada stated in a press release on Dec. 31.
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 the airline with documentation of their prior positive, in place of a negative test result, Ottawa says.
The requirement, which will apply regardless of vaccination status, will be in place for 30 days and will be reassessed as more data and evidence becomes available, the release says.
Ottawa says airlines must see the negative COVID-19 test result, or documentation of a positive test result, before a traveller boards the plane – “otherwise the traveller will be denied boarding.”
"No convincing evidence"
Medical experts, however, have cast doubt on the effectiveness of pre-departure testing.
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."
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.
EU "strongly" supports testing
Several countries, including the United States, Australia, France, Spain and England, have also tightened COVID rules for flights from China.
European Union officials have "strongly" recommended that all member states insist on negative COVID tests from passengers arriving from China before they travel.
As reported by the BBC, Wednesday's recommendation on negative tests came from the EU's Integrated Political Crisis Response group (IPCR), a body made up of officials from the EU's 27 governments.
It also advised that passengers on flights to and from China wear face masks, that random testing of flights from China be introduced, and that wastewater monitoring be conducted at airports.
The recommendation comes a day after the European Commission said an "overwhelming" number of member states favoured restrictions on arrivals from China, the BBC reported.
Other countries, such as Japan and Italy, are requiring testing upon arrival and quarantine for those who test positive.
In a more extreme case, Morocco will ban entry to all travellers coming from China outright in a measure that will go into force on Tuesday (Jan. 10).
A “knee-jerk reinstatement”
Passengers on board a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong that arrived in Vancouver at around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday were among the last arrivals before Canada's testing requirement took effect.
The new travel policies haven’t gone down well in Beijing, which began dismantling its long-standing zero-COVID policies last month following public protest.
Chinese state media have labeled the new requirements “discriminatory” and a politically-motivated effort to undermine the Chinese government.
in a statement on Jan. 4, the International Air Transport Association's (IATA's) Director General Willie Walsh blasted countries for mandating tests for China flights “even though the virus is already circulating widely within their borders.”
“It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years,” Walsh said.