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Ottawa warns against travel before testing requirement comes into force

Wednesday, January 06, 2021 @ 4:53 PM | By Terry Davidson


The best way air travellers can avoid any potential problems with the demand they first pass a COVID-19 test before returning to Canada is to avoid unnecessary travel altogether, federal ministers said on the eve of the new rule taking hold.

Jan. 7 marks the first day of the testing rule, which requires that all air travellers coming back to Canada take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of boarding their return flight.

According to a recent news release, returning air travellers must have either a “molecular polymerase chain reaction” test (PCR) or a “Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP)” test.

However, there are some exceptions. Ottawa has listed 24 countries, including Mexico, Panama, Brazil and Colombia, as well as others in the Caribbean, where the window to get tested will be extended to 96 hours until Jan. 14, mainly due to testing capacity being relatively scarce in these places.

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair

On Jan. 6, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair and Health Minister Patty Hajdu pleaded with Canadians to avoid any non-essential travel abroad.

“As we have been saying for months, and I cannot say this strongly enough, non-essential travel continues to be strongly discouraged,” said Garneau, who noted returning passengers who have tested negative must still self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to Canada.

A member of the media noted concerns being raised about COVID-19 tests in the U.S. taking longer than 72 hours, and that the U.S. is not on the list of exemptions.

Garneau said “it is perfectly reasonable within 72 hours to get a … test and get the results” in the U.S.

Hajdu said “this is exactly why we’re advising people to not travel internationally.”

Certain places, she said, may be experiencing high demands for tests from their own citizens.

“The reality is that COVID-19 is raging in countries all around the world and people are using domestic tests to contain their outbreaks, so it is very important that people follow travel advice and resist the urge to travel internationally [unless] it’s absolutely essential to do so, because the reality is they find it difficult … to acquire a test within the required timeframe.”

Hajdu also noted Ottawa is working on a joint program with the province of Ontario that will see volunteer testing of international travellers at Pearson International Airport.

“All international travellers will continue to require to follow the federal mandatory quarantine after arriving in Ontario, regardless of if they have a negative or positive test,” she said, adding the Ontario program is similar to that of a current a pilot project in Alberta.

“This science-based program [at Pearson] will generate evidence that provincial and federal governments can use and that will help us [in] the development of future testing programs,” said Hajdu.

In other COVID-19 matters, Blair was asked about recent demands from the union representing corrections officers in federal prisons that its members be made more of a priority for vaccinations.  

Blair talked of “advice” Ottawa has received and the “duty of care” owed to those in custody.

“We’re following the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which identified those who are living in congregate living locations, such as our federal institutions, as high-risk locations. I understand the concerns of the union representing our correctional officers and the risk they experience. The [NACI] has identified both correctional workers and inmates on a priority basis. But they have also identified that certain individuals who live in congregate living setting like long-term care facilities or our prisons, who are elderly and who have underlying health conditions, must be a priority. ... And that’s why, in our very earliest distribution of those vaccines, we’re making a small number of those vaccines available to those individuals who are particularly at acute risk in our federal institutions.”

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