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Airlines are scrambling to react to yesterday’s announcement that Canada will require air travelers entering the country to present evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result received within three days before arrival.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced the decision in a Dec. 30 press conference, following conversations with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the COVID Cabinet Committee. The testing requirement is in addition to, not in lieu of, the 14-day quarantine period for returning travelers.
However, further details — including the effective date of the requirement — were not immediately available. In the same press conference, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that Transport Minister Marc Garneau “will be engaging with the airline industry on this new requirement, and additional details will be made available by him shortly on how this requirement will be implemented.”
The lack of clarity left airlines struggling to respond to passengers anxious about how the PCR test requirement will affect their upcoming travel plans. On Twitter, Air Transat said it was receiving a significant volume of questions and calls regarding Wednesday’s announcement.
“We know that this announcement is causing a great deal of concern for our passengers who are at destination or traveling in the coming weeks and we are sorry for this,” Air Transat tweeted. “We are working hard to confirm all the details of this new measure, including its implementation date.”
In a statement, National Airlines Council of Canada president Mike McNaney said the announcement was made “without prior coordination with industry, and with many major operational and communication details still to be determined.”
“While industry will do all it can to implement the new requirements, and ensure passengers are aware of their obligations, given the lack of detail and prior consultation this is going to be a very challenging exercise, the complexity of which the government must not underestimate,” he stated.
The council is urging the government to use testing in conjunction with measures to reduce quarantine levels. However, with more than 72,000 active COVID-19 cases across Canada, some of those involving a new, potentially more contagious coronavirus variant, reducing quarantine does not appear to be a government priority.
“As most Canadians are aware, several cases of the new COVID-19 variant identified in the United Kingdom have now been reported in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec,” deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo stated on Wednesday. “All people identified in Canada with the variant were fortunately already in quarantine. Quarantine has proven to be a protective health measure that works.”
Emphasized Blair: “I want to be very clear: We strongly advise against all discretionary travel. And if you must travel, understand that upon your return to Canada you must follow guidelines and quarantine for 14 days. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the law.”