LATEST GOVERNMENT MESSAGE Travel “Strongly, Strongly, Strongly” Discouraged & Pre-Boarding Testing Takes Effect at Midnight New PCR Testing Launches at YYZ
Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw
Despite strong urging by Canada's aviation industry to postpone the negative COVID testing requirement for international travellers entering the country, the Government of Canada announced in a news conference Wednesday afternoon it is going ahead with plans to implement the regulation promptly at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, 07JAN.
In addition, all travellers must still complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine, regardless of test result -- and if you break the rules, you can be fined or may face prison time. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety, says it's also a "moral" obligation.
The government's overarching message in detailing the measure was clear: do not travel.
Saying the decision to implement mandatory COVID-19 testing for international arrivals was "not made lightly", François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the government "strongly, strongly, strongly" recommends the avoidance of all non-essential travel outside of Canada.
"While we recognize these measures may inconvenience and frustrate Canadian travellers getting back to Canada, we are doing and will always do what is necessary to help protect the health and safety of all Canadians. This is not a time for leisure travel," he said.
Champagne and Blair were accompanied on the call by Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, and Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and we need to continue to be vigilant. This new interim order will provide an additional layer or protection for Canadians and travellers," said Garneau.
Under the new regulation, all travellers five years or older entering Canada – foreigners and Canadian citizens alike – need to provide a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test prior to boarding their flight. Flight crew are exempted.
Short Term Exemptions For most countries, the test needs to be conducted 72 hours before the departure. However, travellers returning from South America and the Caribbean will have 96 hours to receive their test until 14JAN. Then, they will need to get tested 72 hours before their flight. Travellers departing from Haiti are exempt until 21JAN.
Airline Responsibility Garneau said the government has been in ongoing discussions with airlines regarding the details of the regulation. Airlines are required to take passengers' temperature before boarding and ask passengers to complete a COVID-19 questionnaire. This is when the traveller is expected to provide proof of their negative COVID-19 PCR test.
Without a negative COVID-19 test, airlines are instructed to deny passengers boarding. According to a CBC News article, government officials told airlines in a private briefing they won't have the power to exercise their own discretion and allow travellers on a case-by-case basis to board planes to Canada if they were unable to get a negative COVID-19 test abroad within the appropriate time frame.
Blair, acknowledging that Canada has implemented some of the world's strongest travel restrictions, reiterated the government's plea for Canadians to stay grounded.
"Now is not the time to travel for vacation purposes or any non-essential purposes. Our top priority has to be the health and safety of all Canadians. Since March, we have repeatedly urged Canadians not to travel,” he said.
Blair acknowledged that travel has a minuscule role to play in the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, but that's not enough to let our guard down, he said.
"The reduction of travel has resulted in less than two per cent of all COVID transmissions in this country related to travel but we cannot ease our vigilance around our borders. That is why we have added this additional layer of protection."
Champagne warned that Canadians could end up stuck abroad for longer than they originally planned to be outside of Canada if they choose to leave, as "there will be no repatriation flights."
COVID-19 Testing Program Launches At YYZ
On the call, Hajdu announced that COVID-19 testing is now available for passengers at YYZ.
The program, a partnership between the Government of Ontario and Toronto Pearson Airport, is free and voluntary. Test results will be reported into Ontario's lab information system within 48 hours.
Despite travellers who opt into the program still needing to quarantine for 14 days, Premier Doug Ford called the program “a game changer.”
"While we are taking these steps, we are actively working with the federal government to enhance this program and I hope to have more good news to announce in the coming days,” he said when announcing the project today (06JAN).
Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said the new PCR test offered by the province adds an "extra layer of protection" for Ontarians.
"Travellers choosing to participate in the pilot will receive a self-administered test that will be supervised by a health-care provider, either in person or by video, in a convenient and dedicated space in terminals one and three here at Toronto Pearson," she said.
Direct Travel’s Brian Robertson contacted Open Jaw with his reaction to this latest news:
“We applaud the Ontario Provincial Government and the Canadian Federal Governments decision to allow COVID-19 PCR testing on arrival for international travellers. The Canadian travel industry has been requesting the implementation of standardized testing at all Canadian international airports. While this is a huge step in the right direction, we cannot understand why this initiative does not come with a modified quarantine period, which has been very successful in Alberta.”
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.