Canada will eliminate its pre-arrival COVID-19 PCR test requirements for fully vaccinated travellers at the end of the month, officials say.
“Today I’m announcing we are easing our border measures,” federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Tuesday in Ottawa. “It is time to adjust our approach.”
As of Feb. 28, a negative rapid antigen or PCR test results will be accepted to meet entry requirements. These tests will need to be administered by a laboratory or health care entity, meaning doing a test at home won’t work.
Only those randomly selected for a PCR test at the border will have to take one but will not have to quarantine while waiting for results, Duclos said.
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The government will also be lifting restrictions for children under 12 who are not fully vaccinated and travelling with fully vaccinated adults, meaning they will no longer need to wait before going to school or daycare.
Unvaccinated travellers will continue to be tested on arrival.
Additionally, as the spread of Omicron continues to ease, Canada will lower its travel health notice from level three to level two, which means the government will no longer recommend Canadians avoid all travel for non-essential purposes.
Duclos made the announcement alongside federal Minister of Transportation Omar Alghabra, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, Minister of Tourism Randy Boissonnault and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc.
“All measures are subject to re-evaluation,” Duclos said. “It’s important to note that if the epidemiological situation continues to improve, if hospitalizations continue to diminish and Canadians continue to get their booster shots, further easing of travel restrictions could be considered in the coming weeks.”
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President Karl Blackburn of the Quebec Employers Council said Duclos’ eased measures are welcome.
“It simplifies the arrival of travellers and allows a tie-in with the requirements of the United States,” he said. “As summer approaches, we will have to do even more to bring tourism and business travel back to life.”
As of Feb. 28, more airports will be able to receive international flights, Alghabra announced.
Currently, only 18 Canadian airports are allowed to accept international flights.
Other airports in places like Windsor, London, Fort McMurray and Moncton will start to receive these types of flights, in addition to international airports, Alghabra added.
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When it comes to travelling on cruise ships, the government also says they will have a plan.
“I can assure you that we will have more to say very soon about how testing for cruise ship travellers arriving at Canadian ports in time for cruise ship season this spring,” Alghabra said.
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The announcement comes after federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, along with other Canadian health officials, said Canadian border measures were being “actively reviewed” last Friday.
“Canada is past the peak of the Omicron wave,” Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam said at the press conference.
“The worst is behind us,” Duclos added.
Because the nature of the Omicron variant is highly contagious, border controls have a limited impact on transmission, officials said.
Despite the worst of the latest wave being behind us, it’s still important to be aware changes could be reassessed in the event of future variants, officials warned Friday, noting the virus will likely continue evolving.
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Last Thursday, a day before the federal health update, a news release was shared by Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, with support from a group of Canadian doctors, calling for the removal of “obsolete” testing practices at the border.
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“Canada’s current COVID-19 travel restrictions are obsolete and out of step with other countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Denmark, which have removed all testing requirements at their respective borders for fully vaccinated travellers, acknowledging a different phase of pandemic management,” the release said.
Air Canada has also put forward their thoughts online saying: “We believe our country should align with the emerging consensus and adjust our policies to better match the diminishing risks of the pandemic.”
WestJet recently had a similar message.
“Travel advisories, restrictions and testing requirements were meant to be temporary, yet our industry has now reached an impasse that is severely impacting the recovery of our airline and sector,” said Harry Taylor, interim president and CEO of The WestJet Group, in a Feb. 7 news release announcing an extension on the airline’s schedule reduction.
“The time is now to present a path forward that is in line with our global counterparts, reflective of current data and once again makes travel accessible and affordable for Canadians.”
Under the country’s current travel rules, anyone returning to Canada must produce a negative molecular test before flying back to the country. Negative results must be taken within 72 hours of re-entry.
This is also applicable for travellers returning via a land border.
When arriving at the Canadian border, fully vaccinated residents must have pre-entry test results, proof of vaccination, their ArriveCAN receipt with their travel document and a quarantine plan, in case, according to the government of Canada. Air travellers specifically must register in advance for arrival testing.
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In December, the government advised against non-essential travel abroad as the Omicron variant spread worldwide. On-arrival testing was significantly increased and a requirement for a pre-arrival negative PCR test for all travellers leaving the country for less than 72 hours was reinstated.
Since then, parts of the country have begun lifting their COVID-19 measures as the wave of Omicron begins to subside.
Provinces like Alberta have lifted their proof of vaccination update with many other regions, like Saskatchewan and now Ontario, following suit.
As of last weekend in Quebec, rules on private gathering limits were also lifted. Quebec, along with Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, has laid out plans to lift more mandates in the coming weeks.
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