This is how the new arrival test system for foreign travelers from non-US travel destinations works
Attempted to clarify the complicated new travel requirements related to COVID-19 today, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said that all passengers coming from non-U.S. Overseas destinations will soon have to undergo mandatory tests upon arrival.
Alerted by the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the federal government announced this week that these arriving passengers will receive another COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada. This new test is in addition to the pre-departure molecular test that all travelers must take before leaving for Canada.
While Duclos announced the program would take effect immediately, airport operators told CBC News and other media outlets that they had few details from Ottawa on how to implement the program. Days after it went into effect, Health Canada website still doesn’t mention the new mandatory arrival tests.
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill today, Duclos said the mandatory arrival test program begins with the introduction.
This is how the arrival test procedure works as described by Duclos:
Travelers coming from overseas destinations outside the United States require an arrival test
Once a fully vaccinated passenger arrives at a Canadian airport from a foreign destination outside the US, they will either be swabbed by a nurse or given a take-away test.
That traveler must then self-isolate at home or at their designated quarantine destination (e.g. a hotel) while waiting for the results of the test. It can take up to three days to get a result.
If this traveler receives a negative result, he is free to leave self-isolation and move around as usual. If the test is positive, they must remain in quarantine for 14 days.
When a passenger has a connecting flight, they will be wiped or taken a take home test and then on to their final destination.
For example, if an incoming passenger from Hong Kong arrives in Vancouver to take a connecting flight to Kelowna, BC, that traveler would have his or her test tested or collect his test at home in Vancouver before moving on to the connecting flight. That passenger would then have to self-isolate in Kelowna while waiting for the results of the test.
People travel to the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Friday, December 3, 2021 at Pearson International Airport. Due to the newly discovered coronavirus variant B.1.1.529, new travel tests and restrictions have been introduced. now known as the omicron. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)
Travelers who receive a take-away test will do the test themselves while having a video connection with a nurse from a private company like Dynacare, LifeLabs, or Switch Health to make sure it is done correctly. The sample is then sent to a laboratory by courier. The instructions are included in the test kit that is given out at the airport.
Travelers coming directly from the USA are exempt – for the time being
None of these arrival test requirements apply to fully vaccinated travelers arriving direct from a U.S. destination
For example, a fully vaccinated traveler flying non-stop from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Montreal would need to take the pre-departure molecular test just 72 hours before departing for Canada. You would not have to undergo an arrival test upon landing in Montreal.
Duclos said US policy could change over time.
“With COVID-19 we want to protect people’s health and safety as well as possible,” he said. “If we have to impose additional measures at the border, we will.”
However, the arrival test procedure applies when an overseas traveler is connecting from a US airport to a Canadian destination.
For example, if a passenger from Paris arrives in Atlanta to meet a flight to Toronto, that traveler will be treated like a traveler on a non-stop flight from Paris to Toronto – that is, they must go through the mandatory arrival test procedure.
Unvaccinated Canadian travelers returning home from abroad have separate, much stricter requirements. In general, only fully vaccinated foreigners are allowed to enter Canada.
“Let me be very clear. It should be expected that all travelers will be tested on arrival. We won’t be able to test every selected traveler overnight. It will take a few days,” Duclos said.
Duclos said the federal government is working with laboratories and provincial health officials to increase the testing capacity needed to handle the tens of thousands of travelers entering Canada from overseas each month.
The minister said the laboratory capacity dedicated to processing these tests has increased 50 percent since Wednesday, allowing technicians to run tests faster.
Airports urge Feds to rely on take-home testing
Duclos said arrival tests will be uneven to begin with – some airports will be better equipped for passenger smears while other, more crowded facilities will take time to accommodate this massive new public health operation.
Airport operators are urging Ottawa to rely on take-home testing.
Daniel-Robert Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, the organization that represents many of the country’s airports, said it was simply not feasible to test all incoming passengers in the arrival halls of the country’s largest airports.
“The use of outside testing, like take home testing, will be essential to make this work. Our members have informed us that it would not be possible to process 100 percent of all international non-US travelers on site. ” he said.
Gooch said Canada’s airports are wondering how safe it is to cram thousands of passengers into a confined area of an airport that wasn’t built specifically for health procedures. He said they prefer travelers to take these tests “in the safety and comfort of their own home or elsewhere”.