The federal government is lifting the pre-entry COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who are abroad for fewer than 72 hours, but is keeping the testing rules in place for all other travellers.
At a Friday press conference, officials announced a suite of changes to the rules governing travellers at Canada’s air and land borders.
The change for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents taking trips shorter than 72 hours by land or air will take effect on Nov. 30, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Friday. When determining whether a traveller is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the federal government will recognize the Sinopharm, Sinovac and COVAXIN shots in addition to those approved by Health Canada, bringing the country in line with the World Health Organization, the government said.
And, as of Jan. 15, Canada is reducing the number of exemptions for travellers who are allowed to enter the country without being fully vaccinated, Mr. Duclos said. As of next year, the vaccine requirement will also apply to people travelling to reunite with family, international students 18 and older, professional and amateur athletes, and most essential service providers (including truck drivers and emergency service workers).
That means athletes and support staff in leagues such as the NHL and NBA will no longer be exempt, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Friday.
In May, the government’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel said the government should do away with all testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers, except for surveillance monitoring by testing some passengers upon arrival.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been slow to accept the advice, and the changes announced on Friday do not yet follow the recommendations. Asked why foreigners will have a different set of rules for 72-hour trips than Canadians, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said “some of it is not as much the science as it is the operational consideration.”
Dr. Tam suggested that the testing requirement for Americans and others was staying because Canada does not have exit controls and so cannot verify whether a trip will be just three days.
Mr. Duclos said the Public Health Agency of Canada is relying on information from more than just the advisory panel and in particular is tracking indicators such as the pressures facing Canada’s health care systems. He also noted that Canada has a higher vaccination rate than the U.S. and a lower rate of new COVID-19 cases.
The Official Opposition Conservatives, business groups and American lawmakers have been pushing the government to drop its rule requiring costly pre-entry molecular testing for most vaccinated travellers. In a Friday statement, Conservative MP Raquel Dancho called on the government to follow the advice from its expert panel and said the latest changes only add confusion. NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said the federal government should be transparent on why it is not following the panel’s advice.
Irfan Dhalla, a co-chair on the panel, called Friday’s changes a “step in the right direction.” Given concerns raised by Canadians and premiers, “I can understand why the federal government is moving forward cautiously,” he said.
Dr. Dhalla added that the advice from last spring is now dated, something Dr. Tam also suggested on Friday, citing the spread of the “formidable” Delta variant and fragile health care systems.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce applauded the end of the testing requirement but called the 72-hour cutoff arbitrary.
By making it easier for Canadians to cross-border shop than Americans, “the government is putting a one-way door on the border” chamber president Perrin Beatty said in a statement.
Business Council of Canada president Goldy Hyder hopes Canada will soon remove the remaining requirements for molecular tests, such as the costly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test.
“Canada’s PCR testing rule is out of step with the international community. It hurts our economic recovery by driving business away from Canada, and it imposes unnecessary costs on business and personal travel,” he said in a statement.
During his trip to Washington this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told U.S. lawmakers that Canada would have a three-stage approach to loosening COVID-19 testing requirements at the border and would first change the rules for Canadian citizens, then for Americans and finally for people from all other countries.
On Friday, Mr. Duclos said the government will reassess its rules for fully vaccinated Americans but did not provide a timeline for when that will happen.
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