OTTAWA — The federal government is set to “quickly implement” a new requirement for all arriving passengers to test negative for COVID-19 prior to arriving in Canada.
The news was made Dec. 30 by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc following a COVID Cabinet Committee meeting.
The new rule will see all passengers on flights entering Canada to require a negative PCR test three days before their arrival.
The government was expected to release more details about the new requirement later today.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair stressed yesterday that the new rule is “not an alternative” to Canada’s 14-day quarantine but rather an “additional layer of protection.”
“The measures that are contemplated by the Minister of Transport to require pre-boarding testing and verification of that testing are in addition to the quarantine measures,” said Blair. “Once in place, those measures will enhance our efforts to keep people safe and not offer an alternative to the all-important quarantine period.”
Blair confirmed that Minister of Transport Marc Garneau will be engaging with the airline industry regarding the new requirement and additional details will be made available shortly on how it will be implemented.
Blair also confirmed that discussions are taking place regarding a testing pilot program at Toronto Pearson International Airport, similar to the pilot program already underway in Calgary Airport.
“This pilot explores how a testing and monitoring program can be used as an additional layer of defense against the spread of COVID-19,” he added. “Work is well underway between the provinces, CBSA and our public health officials about testing at additional locations, and we look forward to sharing more details as these pilots are completed.”
Canada’s 14-day quarantine has long been regarded as the biggest hurdle to the travel industry’s recovery, with organizations like ACTA and IATA calling for the federal government to reduce the isolation period.
Blair noted: “In our discussions with the province, we have heard some desire to use an entry testing regime to reduce the length of mandatory quarantine for travellers.
“I believe at the current time, we should only be considering testing as an additional measure of a layer of defense against the illness coming into the country.”
Ontario set a new daily record for cases on Dec. 30 with 2,923, with just over one-third of them in the country’s largest city of Toronto. Neighbouring Quebec is reporting 2,511 new cases of COVID-19 and 41 more deaths.
The announcement about the new pre-testing requirement follows criticism that federal travel restrictions and quarantine rules have been too lax.
It also comes as Ontario’s finance minister finds himself in hot water over travelling out of the country despite Canadians being asked to avoid such trips.
Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), issued a statement yesterday in response to the federal government’s announcement.
The NACC represents Canada’s largest national and international carriers including Air Canada, Transat, WestJet and more.
“Over the course of the pandemic, the Canadian aviation industry has been calling on the government for months to introduce a coordinated and systematic testing regime, in conjunction with industry, in order to avoid a rushed and disjointed rollout of testing requirements,” said McNaney.
“Today’s announcement occurred without prior coordination with industry, and with many major operational and communication details still to be determined. 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.”
McNaney went on to say that “Canada’s major airlines have invested millions of dollars to protect the health and safety of our passengers and employees, and protect public health. In conjunction with our airport partners, the industry has initiated various testing programs in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, sharing all data and testing protocols with 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.
“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.”
With files from The Canadian Press