TORONTO — While the travel industry waits to hear about new updated border measures coming this week, at least one consumer media outlet is reporting that the pre-arrival PCR test requirement could be dropped.
CTV News, citing senior government sources, says the feds plan to eliminate the pre-arrival PCR test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers . According to CTV’s report, travellers would be required to show a negative antigen test result instead.
Currently travellers returning to or arriving in Canada must show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure, or at the land border. The requirement was first announced in late December 2021, and took effect Jan. 7, 2021.
With the omicron surge subsiding and restrictions lifting in other countries, there have been increasingly insistent calls in recent weeks for the elimination of pre-arrival and on-arrival PCR test requirements. An e-petition to eliminate the pre-arrival PCR testing requirement, initiated by ACITA and open for signatures until March 10, 2022, can be found here.
Last Thursday’s briefing by the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, with two Hamilton, ON-based doctors, both infection control specialists, who outlined the case for the elimination of pre-arrival and on-arrival PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers, got widespread coverage.
The next day, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos hinted that an announcement about updated border measures would be coming this week.
“In short order, we should be able to announce updates to border measures, next week,” said Minister Duclos on Feb. 11.
Minister Duclos and Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, were asked about the COVID-19 positivity rate for travellers arriving in Canada.
“As one might expect with the omicron surge, that led to very high positivity rates in travellers … they surged to very high levels at the end of December and the beginning of January and they’re just beginning to come down. So by providing testing, and also the quarantine and isolation measures, that’s there to try to reduce that,” said Dr. Tam.
She added: “But we know that that’s not a perfect system and because of the nature of omicron and how infectious it is, it’s very difficult to prevent every case of importation and onward transmission.”
Minister Duclos pegged the positivity rate for travellers arriving in Canada during the omicron surge at 6 – 9%.
He later said that “here in Canada, we’re still in the midst of an omicron crisis. We’re not out of the woods yet. We will base our decision-making on science and prudence … given that we have several layers of protection, we can play off them.”
Also at the Feb. 11 briefing, a reporter asked if the travel advisory “still makes sense”. Canada’s Level 4 travel advisory was lifted in October 2021 after close to 20 months, only to be reinstated at a Level 3 on Dec. 15, 2021 as omicron caseloads ramped up exponentially worldwide.
Dr. Tam said: “As with everything that’s evolving, we are actively examining the advice for travellers. We never stopped people from leaving Canada. But the current advisory is, avoid non-essential travel. It doesn’t stop individuals from doing so. But it is a really important message when omicron has been surging and still continues to surge around the world. But we are actively examining that as we are doing for other public health measures.”
In the wake of Minister Duclos’ and Dr. Tam’s comments on Friday, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable issued the following statement:
“The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable looks forward to the federal government announcing changes to its travel and border measures next week.
“There is no scientific reason that justifies travel being singled out as the only activity that requires testing and isolation.
“Accordingly, we are hopeful that the Canadian government will establish a plan with a clear timeline for removing restrictions, including the removal of unnecessary pre-departure and arrivals testing and isolation requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and blanket travel advisories, as has been done by other international jurisdictions.”