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Canada requires international travellers to show negative COVID test

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • As of 7 January, all international travellers must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of their planned departure for Canada
  • On arrival in Canada, travellers will still have to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine

In a move that has left airlines and booking agents scrambling, the Government of Canada announced on 31 December that all international travellers must present a negative COVID test before being allowed to board flights to Canada.

The requirement for pre-departure COVID-19 testing comes into effect at 12:01 am ET on 7 January 2021, and applies to all air passengers, five years of age or older, bound for Canada. The Transport Canada guidance explains that the test must be performed using a COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, and the test must have been completed within 72 hours of the traveller’s scheduled departure to Canada.

Further details on the new policy are pending but travel industry sources, following briefings by government officials this week, have indicated that there will be some exceptions to the 72-hour requirement, including specified countries where testing will be allowed within a 96-hour window of departure and others that are exempt from the new rule because of a lack of testing in the area. Such qualified exceptions are likely to be part of a rolling update around the new policy as the Canadian government works with officials abroad to evaluate testing capacity and local conditions in countries around the world. As such, all travellers, including incoming students, are advised to carefully consult the Government of Canada guidance and to check frequently for updates leading up to their planned departure date.

All travellers with negative PCR tests who are subsequently authorised to enter Canada must still complete the full, mandatory 14-day quarantine. Transport Canada advises, “As has been the case for months, all travellers will have their quarantine plans reviewed by a government official and, if not suitable, will be required to quarantine in a federal quarantine facility. Travellers to Canada must use the ArriveCAN App or website and provide accurate contact information and their mandatory 14-day quarantine plan on or before entry.”

In other words, all previous guidelines for incoming students travelling to Canada still apply, but, as of 7 January, students will also need to present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure.

“As the global situation evolves, we continue to work with our partners to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 into Canada at all international ports of entry,” added Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair. “The new testing requirement is an additional layer of protection that helps make Canada’s border measures among the strongest in the world. The testing regime is not a replacement for the legal requirement to quarantine, which remains our strongest defence against the spread of the virus.”

Airlines press for delay

The largest airlines in Canada have asked the government to delay the implementation of the new PCR testing requirement until 18 January and have cautioned that the planned timeline is too tight. CBC News obtained a copy of the letter to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, in which the CEOs of Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing — along with two major trade associations, the International Air Transport Association and National Airlines Council of Canada — said that, “We have very serious concerns about the feasibility of successfully implementing such a significant measure in the extremely short time[frame] announced, without consultation or a coordinated plan.”

Minister Garneau has indicated, however, that the PCR requirement will come into effect as planned on 7 January. “We are reaching dangerous case numbers in areas across the country and we cannot afford to stop the important work being done to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” said Transport Canada spokesperson Allison St-Jean. “Despite a challenging environment, airlines have played an important role since the beginning of the fight against COVID-19 and we are confident they will continue to do so.”

For additional background, please see:

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