The federal government declared Friday it will suspend the mandatory randomized arrival testing for incoming visitors at Canada’s airports, a move that arrives as the U.S. signals it will ease up on some testing requirements.
As a result, beginning Saturday, June 11, only unvaccinated travelers will be needed to take a test upon entry into Canada. Up to now, completely vaccinated travelers were being subjected to random COVID-19 testing upon coming.
The policy change is being billed as a “pause” because random arrival testing will be suspended between Saturday and June 30 — and the government prepares to bring it back on July 1.
“It is important to note that [randomized testing] will be reinstated as this is the only way we have of detecting new variants coming into the country, given that provinces and territories are no longer doing any PCR testing,” Marie-France Proulx, a spokesperson for Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, told the reporter.
While the random coming testing eventually will return, the government announced that starting next month, all testing, including for the unvaccinated, will be moved off-site — meaning visitors will no longer be forced to give a sample for a test at the airport.
Power & Politics, Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault told the three-week pause in random testing will provide the government time to set up off-site testing as the program shifts away from the country’s airports.
“It’s going to make sure that the airports flow faster. The airports aren’t designed to be mini health care centers and so this will help with staff, it’ll help with congestion,” Boissonnault said. “So this is a good step in the right direction.”
It wasn’t instantly clear what the shift to “off-site” testing will mean for coming passengers. Canada is one of the few Western countries that still have some form of coming testing at this late stage of the pandemic.
Critics, including several public health experts, have said that this sort of testing regime is unnecessary now that there is widespread natural and vaccine-induced immunity to the virus. They’ve called the policy a bureaucratic burden that was adding to already lengthy postpone at airports, which are grappling with clogged customs facilities.
The government has defended the arrival testing program as a way to track how many COVID-19 cases are slipping into the country. They’ve also said the program could be operated to detect new virus variants of concern.
The U.S. which has never had arrival testing announced
The U.S., which has never had arrival testing, declared Friday it will drop its pre-entry testing requirement for air travel. As of Sunday, U.S.-bound passengers won’t have to get a test before boarding a flight.
Some of Canada’s airports, most notably Toronto’s Pearson International, have been plagued by hours-long delays in recent weeks. The federal government has been criticized for its handling of the often chaotic situation, which has left passengers stranded and attendants stressed.
Greater Toronto Airport Authority
The Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), the organization that runs Pearson, has long urged the government to drop random arrival testing because the program causes delays.
GTAA also has told us the already dire customs situation is likely to only get worse because the number of international flights arriving at that airport will increase by some 50 percent in the coming days as airlines ramp up their summer schedules.
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“The government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are holding on travelers. We continue to work with airports, airlines, baggage handlers, and other partners to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told in a report declaring the arrival test changes.
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority
Alghabra informed the government has already hired an additional 800 Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) screening officers to aid process the large volume of passengers transiting through airport security during the busy travel season.
To address the persistent backlog at customs, the government is adding more Canada Border Services Agency kiosks to Pearson’s customs hall, Alghabra said.
The Opposition Conservatives have repeatedly urged the government to drop all testing requirements and end vaccine mandates, which force travelers to show proof of vaccination. While the coming testing program will be suspended, vaccine requirements remain.
All travelers will still be needed to show that they’ve had their two shots — or one, in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — before boarding a plane. The government is also maintaining the vaccine mandate for transport workers and other federal employees — a policy that has been blamed for staff shortages among security, airport, and airline employees.
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