It’s the FYI that some in the travel industry may not want to hear, but mandatory random COVID-19 testing has officially resumed for travellers entering Canada through four major airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
The controversial program, which kicked in Tuesday morning (July 19), restores measures that were paused on June 11 as Ottawa worked to move the testing locations outside of airports as facilities became busier due to the spike in demand for air travel.
Now, randomized on-arrival testing for all air travellers – fully vaccinated and partially or unvaccinated – will be completed outside of airports, either via an in-person appointment at select provider locations and pharmacies, or via virtual appointment for a swab test.
Travellers who do not qualify as fully vaccinated, unless exempt, must continue to test on day one and day eight of their mandatory 14-day quarantine
“A step backward"
But the federal government is facing intense pressure from tourism and air travel industry groups to scrap testing altogether, with some arguing that public health restrictions are to blame for the chaos currently unfolding at Canadian airports.
In response to the program’s return, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, a coalition of industry leaders, said it was “a step backward that unfairly targets Canada's tourism sector and negatively impacts Canadian and international travellers.”
“Medical experts have been clear – mandatory testing should be replaced by more effective ways to assess community spread, such as community wastewater testing for tracking future variants,” the Roundtable said in a statement on July 14.
“Canada has become a total outlier"
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has also taken a shot at the Canadian government, slamming its decision to maintain travel restrictions as other countries around the world lift their rules.
In a statement last week, IATA said the Canadian government’s rules are “partly responsible for the ongoing delays and disruption affecting air travellers across Canada.”
“Canada has become a total outlier in managing COVID-19 and travel,” said Peter Cerda, IATA’s regional vice-president for the Americas. “While governments across the globe are rolling back restrictions, the Government of Canada is reinstating them.”
The federal government, meanwhile, says data from its testing program is used to understand the current level and trends of importation of COVID-19 into Canada.
Fully vaccinated air travellers who are selected for mandatory random testing, as well unvaccinated travellers, will receive an email notification within 15 minutes of completing their customs declaration.
The email will contain information to help them “arrange for their test with a testing provider in their region,” federal officials said.
If a traveller tests positive, he or she must go into isolation and follow the federal requirement to isolate for 10 days from the date of the test result, officials said.
That is, notably, twice as long as the average isolation period recommend by any provincial or territorial health authority in Canada.
In this regard, IATA said this “once again singles out travellers as compared to the rest of the population.”
Mandatory random testing also continues at land border points of entry.