Canada To Require Negative COVID-19 Tests From All Air Travellers As Of 07JAN

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

Photo by Prasesh Shiwakoti via Unsplash

New COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers entering Canada by air will begin on January 7, 2021, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday.

The CBC reported that the new requirement will be enforced for all air passengers aged five years or older.

Travellers must obtain a negative test result on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test — considered the gold standard for detecting active infections of the virus — within 72 hours of boarding their flight to Canada.

Passengers must present documentation of the negative test result to the airline prior to boarding their flight to Canada, Minister Garneau said in a prepared statement.

The minister added that the January date will give airlines adequate time to prepare for the new entry rules and will apply to Canadians as well as foreigners.

Two Per Cent Of COVID-19 Cases In Canada Linked To Int'l Travel: Gov't Data

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair stressed Wednesday that the new rule is not an alternative to Canada’s 14-day quarantine, but rather an “additional layer" to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Since the quarantine requirement was implemented in MAR, travel leaders have condemned it as the biggest obstacle to the industry’s recovery. Airlines and associations including ACTA and IATA have repeatedly called for the federal government to reduce the isolation period, but officials have been slow to act. A COVID-19 testing pilot program at YYC, launched in OCT, is the only initiative in Canada that permits a reduced quarantine period for travellers.

Government data has shown that the vast majority of travellers abide by quarantine rules upon their return to Canada.

Only 130 tickets and eight charges have been issued in connection with breaking travel requirements, according to CTVNews. Overall, the number of COVID-19 infections in Canada linked to international travel is low. The article states that only around two per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada “have originated from travel outside the country."

New Regulation Implemented With No Industry Consultation, Says NACC

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc first announced the new requirement on 30DEC following a COVID Cabinet Committee meeting, spurring confusion and questions among the travel industry. One tour operator who with Open Jaw said the initiative came as a complete surprise.

Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council, said in a statement issued 30DEC that the impending regulation occurred "without prior coordination with industry, and with many major operational and communication details still to be determined."

He went on to say: "At a broader level, the announcement only addresses one element of the path forward – the utilization of testing to help further protect public health.  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.

 "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."

The NACC represents Canada’s largest national and international carriers, including Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation and WestJet.

Throughout the pandemic, the Canadian aviation industry has called on the government to introduce a coordinated testing regime, in partnership with industry, in order to avoid a rushed and disjointed rollout of testing requirements.

McNaney noted that Canada’s major airlines have invested millions of dollars in health and safety initiatives, including various testing programs at Canada's largest airports (YVR, YYC, YYZ and YUL), in conjunction with airport partners and federal officials.

"This industry initiated activity was 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," McNaney concluded.

"We Will Do Everything In Our Power To Assist Our Clients": Transat

On Twitter, Transat posted a statement saying it is "working hard" to confirm the details of the new measure.

 "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. We will provide all necessary updates as soon as possible. Please be assured that, in collaboration with authorities of destinations we fly to and our hotel partners, we will do everything in our power to assist our clients and facilitate their timely return home," Transat wrote.

"We also remind you that the COVID-19 insurance included at no extra cost in all round-trip flights or packages booked since September 25, 2020 provides coverage in case of forced quarantine at destination following a positive COVID-19 test result."

Unifor Renews Calls For Industry Aid

In light of the government's announcement, Unifor renewed calls for the federal government to provide financial support for the airline industry.

"(Wednesday's) announcement is important to protect the public safety of all Canadians, but at the same time, the federal government's continued refusal to provide adequate financial support for the 300,000 airline workers puts the very future of Canada's airline industry in jeopardy," said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

"Countries around the world have provided support to its airline industries because they recognize that maintaining a strong aviation sector is the key to a post-COVID-19 economic recovery. In addition to airline pilots, gate agents, ground crew and other staff, airport limo drivers, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and workers that maintain the airports all need their government to have a plan to allow them to maintain their skills and be ready to work once the restrictions are lifted."

 Unifor represents approximately 12,900 members in the air transportation sector.

Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.

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