Ottawa to end pre-arrival COVID-19 testing for vaccinated travellers entering Canada

OTTAWA—As pandemic restrictions ease across the country, Canada will soon stop requiring fully vaccinated travellers to show evidence of negative COVID-19 tests, federal sources say.

The change to the border testing requirement will come into effect by the end of the month and will be announced on Thursday by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault.

Proof of vaccination will still be needed to board any plane, train or boat that is federally regulated.

Under the current rules, all travellers aged five and up entering Canada by land, air or water must provide proof of a negative test to cross the border.

Accepted tests include antigen tests observed or administered by a health-care professional one day before travel, molecular tests taken within 72 hours prior to departure, or a previous negative molecular test result taken between 10 and 180 days before entering the country.

Pre-arrival testing requirements for fully-vaccinated people have been criticized by some medical professionals and those in the travel and tourism industry as outdated, inconvenient and expensive.

Last month, infectious diseases physician Dr. Zain Chagla argued, along with the Canadian Tourism and Travel Roundtable, that border testing is a questionable measure given that “travel is no more risky than other activities.”

“When first put in place, Canada’s travel rules were designed to keep COVID-19 out of the country. Now that the virus is here and community spread is responsible for approximately 99 per cent of all infections, the rules governing travel are obsolete,” he said in a statement.

The announcement comes as pandemic measures such as mask mandates and the use of vaccine passports are being reconsidered or lifted altogether in parts of the country.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked during a funding announcement with Premier Doug Ford about Ontario’s decision to drop its mask mandate next week.

“I think all Canadians are pretty damn tired of two years of this pandemic, and eager to get back to normal as much as possible,” Trudeau told reporters.

“As measures are eased and adjusted across the country, Canadians will of course benefit from that, but also … continue to keep in mind the choices needed from context to context to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

Last month, Ottawa scaled back testing requirements, allowing travellers to take rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 instead of the pricier and less accessible — but more accurate — molecular tests.

Referring to those changes Wednesday, Trudeau said that choices “informed by science, informed by public health recommendations” were something all Canadians could agree on.

But on Tuesday, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of new COVID-19 cases began to increase around the world last week, and warned that rising caseloads could be “just the tip of the iceberg.”

According to the WHO’s weekly report of COVID-19 data, the total number of cases climbed by eight per cent last week, although COVID-19-related deaths dropped by 17 per cent.

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