When the United States land border reopens on Nov. 8, fully vaccinated Canadians will still be required to purchase expensive PCR molecular tests in order to return home.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, appearing on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday (Oct. 17), reiterated that acquiring a negative COVID-19 test has "proven to be one of the more effective requirements" for travellers.
Minister Blair said the ongoing testing regime at the border is based on advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
“Again, we're continuing to evaluate it, and we'll look at the experience in other jurisdictions. But right now, it's been a very effective protection for Canadians," Blair told CBC host Rosemary Barton.
The interview comes as the Government of Canada faces pressure to ease its testing rules as the U.S. gets ready to welcome back international visitors.
On Nov. 8, the U.S. will open both its land and air borders to fully vaccinated foreign national travellers, White House officials announced on Friday (Oct. 15).
There will be no testing requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians entering the U.S. by land, officials confirmed.
But this differs from Canada – as part of its decision reopen its side of the border to Americans on Aug. 9, Canada requires visitors and citizens entering the country to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
Canadians that fly to the U.S. must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure and can use the much-cheaper antigen test.
But to return to home, Canadians must obtain a more costly negative molecular (PCR) test within 72 hours of departure.
In light of the U.S. reopening its border, boards of trade, politicians and tourism organizations in both the U.S. and Canada have called on Canada to eliminate its testing measures entirely.
"Testing is redundant," New York Rep. Brian Higgins said last Thursday. Proof of vaccination should be enough, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking to journalists in Washington, D.C., last week, said Canada’s testing rules are here to stay. For now.
“The rules are the rules,” Freeland told reporters, “and Canadians should expect to follow them.”
“I really believe that when it comes to finishing the fight against COVID, the Canadian approach, which has been to follow science, to follow the recommendations of public health authorities, and to err on the side of caution has served us really, really well.”
PCR vs. antigen
Since Jan. 7, 2021, all air passengers entering Canada have been required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the country.
Why are only PCR (and LAMP tests) accepted in Canada, and not antigen tests?
COVID-19 molecular tests, also known as “polymerase chain reaction” (PCR) and reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) tests “are currently the most accurate tests for detecting COVID-19,” Tammy Jarbeau, senior media relations advisor at Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, told PAX last January.
(Click here to learn more about why Canada chooses PCR over antigen testing).
“The Canada Border Services Agency would like to remind travellers that border measures remain in place for travellers entering or returning to Canada and that they should get informed and understand their obligations as they make their travel plans,” the release read.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has long called on governments to address the high cost of COVID-19 tests, urging flexibility in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to expensive PCR tests.
IATA has also recommended governments adopt recent World Health Organization (WHO) guidance to consider exempting vaccinated travellers from testing requirements.