Border-town mayors call for end to Canada's COVID-19 test requirement for travellers
Mayors argue test impedes a return to tourism on both sides of the border
Several border-town mayors on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border held a virtual news conference on Monday morning to call on Canada to nix its pricey COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers.
The event was held on the same day the U.S. finally reopened its land border to fully vaccinated recreational travellers, after 19 months of closure.
But the border-town mayors said they aren't fully celebrating just yet, because a big obstacle for travellers still remains: when entering Canada, they must take a molecular test — such as a PCR test — which can cost hundreds of dollars.
"Now there's a pathway to cross, yet that pathway is dampened by an unreasonable and costly requirement for a PCR test to return to Canada," said Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor, Ont., which borders Detroit.
"This PCR test requirement is a hard stop barrier for families to reunite except for the wealthiest of Canadians, and that is unfair."
Test cost will hamper tourism, group says
Dilkens was joined at the news conference by the mayors of Niagara Falls, Ont., Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Sarnia, Ont., as well as U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins and a representative for the Hotel Association of Canada.
They argued that while the U.S. land border is now open, the cost of Canada's test requirement will continue to hamper a return to tourism on both sides of the border.
"When you tell a family it's going to cost you another $1,000 to visit us and you won't have any more to eat or a nicer place to stay, they choose not to [come]," said Mayor Jim Diodati of Niagara Falls, Ont.
Travellers entering Canada must provide proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their departing flight or planned arrival at the land border. The cost of the test can range anywhere from $150 to $300. Sometimes travellers can get free or discounted tests in the U.S., but they aren't available in all parts of the country, and might not provide results within a traveller's time frame.
To help ease logistical problems for Canadians taking short trips, Canada now allows people crossing into the U.S. to take their test in Canada and then use it upon their return — as long as it's less than 72 hours old.
But that accommodation doesn't solve the cost problem, and Dilkens argues the 72-hour window defeats the purpose of the test requirement. That's because, he said, a Canadian could take their test in Canada, be exposed to COVID-19 while in the U.S., and then return home with no further testing.
"The current system would allow someone to take a PCR test in Canada, cross into Detroit to cheer on the [Detroit Lions football team] with 65,000 other fans in the stadium, and then return to Canada using the test they took before leaving," he said.
"How is that test of any use to anyone?"
Travellers staying home
Canada's test requirement first sparked complaints earlier this month when the U.S. announced it would reopen its land border to fully vaccinated travellers on Nov. 8, and not require them to take a pre-arrival COVID-19 test.
Although many Canadians are planning to go to the U.S. now that the land border is open, others say they're staying put until the test requirement is dropped.
"It's like a big wall has been put up there and I'm just not able to climb over it," said Ted Hilton of Ingersoll, Ont. He's yearning to drive to nearby Portage, Mich., to visit family, but says he can't afford the potential cost of the test to re-enter Canada.
"I'm 80 years old, living off of pension income, and it's just not there in the budget."
In pre-pandemic times, John Roberts and his wife, Linda, would go on day trips from their Toronto home to the U.S. about four times a year.
The couple had planned to drive to Niagara Falls, N.Y., on Saturday to do some shopping, but cancelled their trip after realizing they'd have to take a COVID-19 test to return to Canada.
"You've got to pay $150 each approximately for a six hour trip," said Roberts. "The added cost for the trip doesn't make sense. It's going to stop people [from] going across."
He said the couple also backed out of the trip because his wife finds the PCR tests uncomfortable.
"The swab up the nose, she hates it."
Canada reviewing test requirement
At a news conference on Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the government is reviewing the test requirement.
"I do think that all of this needs to be re-examined as we are doing with all the border measures," she said. "We wanted to take a cautious, phased approach."
Tam offered no timeline for when the government would finish its review of its border rules.
Some medical experts say the Canadian government should consider replacing its molecular test requirement with a more convenient and cheaper antigen test. These types of tests are generally less reliable but can be done shortly before a traveller enters Canada.
"Doing an antigen test at the airport is probably even more accurate than a 72-hour-ago PCR test, because you're catching people that are infectious at that moment as they enter Canada," said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton.