Free up PCR tests for communities by randomizing testing at the airport Roundtable

Free up PCR tests by randomizing testing at the airport: Roundtable

OTTAWA — As Canada grapples with a shortage of PCR test capacity, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable is calling on the federal government to redeploy PCR tests — currently used for on-arrival traveller testing — into much-needed community use across the country.

The Roundtable is also calling for a return to randomized on-arrival testing for surveillance purposes.

“On December 17 [2021] the federal government announced additional measures to contain the spread of the Omicron variant. This included the increase of on-arrival PCR testing for travellers arriving from destinations other than the United States and isolation until test results are received, despite all travellers being fully vaccinated, asymptomatic and having just received a negative PCR test in the last 72 hours,” reads a statement issued today by the Roundtable.

“The redundant testing requirement was introduced at a time of a shortage of such tests for use in community testing.”

As the Roundtable points out, these measures were designed to keep omicron out of Canada. “Now that Omicron has made its way into Canadian communities, it is important we shift policies to reflect the realities of the current COVID-19 situation. Canada’s international peers, like the United Kingdom and Israel, have already done so. The government should consider shifting back to arrival testing on a random basis for surveillance purposes, which was recommended by the Expert Panel.”

The Roundtable notes that the positivity rate of fully vaccinated travellers entering Canada on a relative basis is extremely low when contrasted against the significantly higher positive rate in the community, because the arrivals test effectively re-tests COVID-negative travellers.

“Canada is currently facing a COVID-19 testing crisis. On-arrival COVID-19 PCR tests waste valuable, scarce testing resources that could be redeployed to protect our frontline workers and support a return to school for children. Shifting from double testing at the border will allow these COVID-19 PCR tests to be deployed to communities where they are most needed,” says the Roundtable.

“Canada’s travel and tourism sector continues to partner with decision-makers to blunt the impact of the variant on our communities. The Roundtable understands the severity and complexity of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. We encourage the federal government to update these temporary measures and return to a program of randomized testing of travellers which will continue to provide data on COVID-19.”