The federal government announced on Friday that it will suspend mandatory random arrival tests for travelers arriving at Canadian airports, a move that occurs when the United States indicates that it will reduce some testing requirements.
As a result, as of Saturday, June 11, only unvaccinated travelers will be required to take a test at the entrance to Canada.
Until now, fully vaccinated travelers were subjected to random COVID-19 testing on arrival.
The policy change is considered a “pause” because the random arrival tests will be suspended between Saturday and June 30, and the government plans to resume it on July 1.
“It simply came to our notice then [randomized testing] it will be restored as this is the only way we have to detect new variants arriving in the country, as the provinces and territories no longer do any PCR testing, “said Marie-France Proulx, spokeswoman for Health Minister Jean -Yves Duclos CBC News.
Although the random arrival tests will finally return, the government has announced that, starting next month, all tests, even for the unvaccinated, will be moved out of place, which means that travelers already they will not be required to give a sample for a test at the airport. .
This change would mean that airports could dismantle dedicated test sites that have taken up customs space.
In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault said the three-week break in random testing will give the government time to set off-site testing as the program moves away from airports. country.
“It will ensure that airports flow faster. Airports are not designed to be mini-health care centers, so this will help with staff, it will help with congestion,” Boissonault said. “So this is a good step in the right direction.”
It was not immediately clear what the change in “off-site” tests would mean for arriving passengers.
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Canada is one of the few Western countries that still has some sort of proof of arrival at this late stage of the pandemic.
Critics, including several public health experts, have said that such a testing regime is not necessary now that there is widespread natural and vaccine-induced immunity to the virus. They have described the policy as a bureaucratic burden in addition to the long delays at airports, which face clogged customs facilities.
The government has defended the arrival testing program as a way to keep track of how many COVID-19 cases are entering the country. They also said the program could be used to detect new worrying virus variants.
The United States, which has never had arrival tests, announced on Friday that it will no longer require pre-entry tests for air travel. From Sunday, passengers bound for the United States will not have to take a test before boarding a flight.
Some of Canada’s airports, most notably Toronto’s Pearson International, have suffered long delays in recent weeks. The federal government has been criticized for its often chaotic handling of the situation, which has left passengers stranded and staff stressed.
People are waiting in the arrivals section of Terminal 1 at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Esteban Cuevas / CBC)
The Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), the organization that manages Pearson, has long urged the government to abandon random arrival tests because the program causes delays.
The GTAA has also said that the already dire customs situation will only get worse because the number of international flights arriving at this airport will increase by 50% in the next few days as airlines increase their summer opening hours.
“The Government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant waiting times at some Canadian airports are having on passengers. We continue to work with airports, airlines, baggage handlers and other partners to implement solutions to reduce delays. We are approaching the high summer season, “Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement announcing the changes to the arrival tests.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says his government has taken steps to address airport delays. (Patrick Doyle / The Canadian Press)
Alghabra said the government has already hired an additional 800 Canadian Air Safety Authority (CATSA) control officers to help process the large volume of passengers passing through airport security during the travel season. intense.
To address the persistent customs backlog, the government is adding more Canadian Border Services Agency kiosks to Pearson Customs, Alghabra said.
Opposition Conservatives have repeatedly urged the government to drop all test requirements and end vaccination warrants, which require travelers to show vaccination tests.
Although the arrival testing program is suspended, vaccination requirements remain.
All passengers will still have to prove that both vaccinations, or one, in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, have been given before boarding a plane.
The government also maintains the vaccination mandate for transportation workers and other federal employees, a policy that has been blamed for staff shortages among security workers, airports and airlines.