The federal government is easing some of its testing and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers, which the health minister insists has nothing to do with the ongoing convoy protests across Canada against COVID-19 measures.
As of Feb. 28, negative results from rapid antigen tests taken no more than 24 hours prior to departure will be accepted from fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Canada, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Tuesday.
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That will replace the current requirement for a negative result from a molecular test taken within 72 hours of departing for Canada. Those test results will also still be accepted from travellers.
Antigen tests are typically cheaper and faster than molecular tests, and more widely available. The antigen test must be administered by a laboratory, health-care entity or telehealth service, Duclos said. Rapid tests administered at home will not be sufficient.
Mandatory random COVID-19 testing will continue at points of entry, but the government will drop the requirement that fully vaccinated travellers who have been outside Canada or the U.S. must quarantine while awaiting their test results.
Children under the age of 12 who are not yet fully vaccinated but have travelled with fully vaccinated adults will no longer have to avoid settings such as schools and daycares for two weeks.
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The government will also lift its advisory against non-essential travel outside Canada. “I want to underscore that Canadians should still exercise caution when travelling abroad,” Duclos told a news conference.
The easing of federal measures — happening at the same time as provinces begin to lift their own restrictions — comes as the country passes the peak of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, coupled with a high vaccination rate and greater access to therapeutics and rapid tests, Duclos said.
As convoy protests continue in Ottawa and across the country against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other measures, Duclos said the government’s stance on vaccination remains the same, pointing out that the requirements for unvaccinated travellers are unchanged.
Those individuals still need to be tested on arrival and eight days later, as well as quarantine for 14 days.
“I am concerned that the timing is being rushed to respond to all sorts of political pressures at this time,” Kelley Lee, Canada research chair in global health governance at Simon Fraser University, said of Tuesday’s announcement.
Lee, who researches COVID-19 travel measures, said it will be important to maintain the random on-arrival testing for surveillance purposes, should yet another variant of the virus emerge.
She said the country still has lessons to learn in terms of how it handled the latest Omicron-induced wave, which quickly depleted testing capacity in most provinces.
The changes announced Tuesday were welcomed by groups including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the National Airlines Council of Canada, the latter of which said that Canada needs to consider eliminating the pre-departure test requirement entirely.
The executive director of the Frontier Duty Free Association, which represents the 33 duty-free stores at the land border across Canada, said she wanted to see the removal of testing measures at the land border.
Barbara Barrett said the measures have been impeding travel and hurting the small businesses her association represents. She pointed out that unlike Canada, the U.S. does not require a pre-departure test from fully vaccinated individuals crossing the land border.
“It’s border communities and the border businesses like ours, that are already on our knees, that are paying the price,” she said.
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant
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