Wednesday,  April 21, 2021  4:12 am

Questions & confusion: Canada's airlines react to new pre-departure testing rule


Questions & confusion: Canada's airlines react to new pre-departure testing rule
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 DailyXtra.ca. 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 aviation sector is speaking out in response to Wednesday's announcement (Dec. 30) by the federal government that all arriving international passengers to Canada will be required to have a negative PCR test result 72 hours prior to arrival. 

In a statement, Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest national and international carriers (Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation and WestJet), said the announcement "occurred without prior coordination with industry." 

Additionally, McNaney pointed out that there are "major operational and communication details still to be determined." 

"At a broader level, the announcement only addresses one element of the path forward – the utilization of testing to help further protect public health," said McNaney on Dec. 30. "We strongly believe it must also be utilized in conjunction with measures to reduce quarantine levels, as is being done in countries all around the world."

McNaney noted how the aviation industry has been "calling on the government for months" to introduce a coordinated and systematic testing regime, in conjunction with industry, in order to "avoid a rushed and disjointed rollout of testing requirements."

READ MORE: All travellers entering Canada will soon require negative COVID-19 test before arrival

Over the past several months, the Canadian aviation industry has launched various COVID-19 testing studies in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto alongside federal officials. 

McNaney said these initiatives were undertaken to "drive a systematic approach to addressing COVID-19." 

"The implementation of the new testing requirement must be used as a springboard to a more coordinated approach to mitigate risk, and implement science-based policy with respect to quarantine measures," he said. 

"While industry will do all it can to implement the new requirements, and ensure passengers are aware of their obligations, given the lack of detail and prior consultation this is going to be a very challenging exercise, the complexity of which the government must not underestimate." 

Questions & confusion 

The manner in which Canada's new travel rule was announced is particularly maddening. There was no press conference, no press release. No details. 

All we knew is that federal officials held a meeting on Wednesday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc confirmed something to the Canadian Press, and boom, the word was out. 

Even Transport Canada couldn't find the words to explain how pre-departure COVID-19 testing would work, revealing on Twitter that it was still ironing out the details. 

What does the new testing requirement mean for travellers that are currently in destinations? 

How does the 14-day quarantine order factor into it all? Will travellers still need to self-isolate if they enter Canada with a negative test in hand? 

Can the Canadian government refuse entry into Canada for Canadian citizens that don’t have the test?

All this having been said, the federal government is expected to provide details on the plan later today (Dec. 31).

Some of Canada's airlines took to Twitter on Wednesday to address customer concerns, and judging by the responses, they don't know any more than you do. 

"We know that this announcement is causing a great deal of concern for our passengers who are at destination or travelling in the coming weeks and we are sorry for this," wrote Air Transat on its Twitter account. "We are working hard to confirm all the details of this new measure, including its implementation date." 

Air Canada also spoke up, tweeting that "No details were provided but at this time there is no change to entry requirements, which can be found at http://travel.gc.ca & http://aircanada.com." 

A Twitter user named "@motorbikemike2" asked WestJet if the new testing requirements would apply to the Alberta pilot project, which aims to reduce quarantine times by offering travellers a testing option at entry points, such as Calgary International Airport.

"WestJet was neither informed nor consulted regarding changes to Canadian entrance requirements, and we are eagerly awaiting further details from the Government of Canada on COVID PCR testing," WestJet replied. 

Speaking with media on Wednesday, Minister LeBlanc didn’t state exactly when the new rules would kick in, but reports indicate that it could happen in a matter of days. 

The news unfolded on the same day that it was revealed that Toronto Pearson International Airport would be receiving its own COVID-19 testing project in early 2021.

READ MORE: Toronto Pearson is getting its own COVID-19 testing program in early 2021

According to a Dec. 30 report published by the National Post, the initiative will aim to test roughly 315,000 travellers for COVID-19 over a three-month period.

A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford told the Post that the project, which has yet to be finalized, will launch “in the early new year” and will be a joint effort between the Ontario and federal governments.


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