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Hospitality and travel group urges Canadian government to further ease COVID-19 restrictions

While the Canadian government lifted some travel restrictions Monday, a hospitality and travel group says it's time to go further. 

Advocates say current easing a ‘step in the right direction’ but not far enough

Those in favour of removing testing requirements at airports say travel is no more risky than other public activities. (Mike Symington/CBC)

While the Canadian government lifted some travel restrictions Monday, a hospitality and travel group says more needs to be done. 

Members of Canadian Travel and Tourism — a coalition that represents multiple airlines, hospitality businesses and travel services — held a roundtable meeting at the Calgary International Airport on Feb. 28 to lay some demands on the table. 

The group is calling on the federal government to go further in its repeal of COVID-19 travel restrictions by removing pre-departure testing entirely for fully vaccinated travellers before April 1. 

"Collectively, we agree that fully vaccinated Canadians and inbound visitors should no longer be subject to out-of-pocket testing expenses and outdated measures when returning home," said Richard Bartrem, vice president of communications at WestJet, a member of Canadian Travel and Tourism.

On Monday, the Canadian government removed the requirement for people entering the country to have a negative lab-based PCR test. Travellers will now only need to show the results of a negative rapid antigen test.

While members of the roundtable said the easing was a step in the right direction, they argued that Canada is still lagging behind other countries that have removed these testing policies entirely. 

Travellers entering Canada are no longer required to present a negative PCR test result. Instead, a rapid antigen test is required. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"When they do travel again, [international travellers] are going to look for the path of least resistance, and right now we are a path of resistance," said Bartrem.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician, said travel is no more risky than other public activities — such as going to the gym or a restaurant — that may have less stringent masking and vaccination requirements. 

"The yield for this type of testing is very, very low for a significant amount of cost and anxiety to the traveller."

Leslie Keyter of South Travel said she hopes the federal government will not only remove testing requirements, but will also continue financial support programs for those in the travel industry beyond March. 

Petru Pana is Canadian but is currently living in New York City. He regularly travels home to visit family, and continued his visits as best he could throughout the pandemic. 

Pana said that while he thinks the new changes to travel requirements are a "good step" he's aware that they are a reflection of less deadly recent COVID-19 variants.

"Obviously [the testing] is something that will keep some tourists from coming to Canada, but I wouldn't necessarily say for me that it was that much of a burden." 

Last week, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos encouraged Canadians to continue to "exercise prudence" as restrictions eased across the country. 

"Our fight against the virus is not over," said Duclos.

"There is still the risk — the real risk — of becoming sick while abroad and having to extend your trip, should you test positive for COVID-19."

Monique Gibeau, who was on her way to the U.K. from Calgary on Monday, said she was excited that the country was lifting some restrictions for travellers. 

"I think it's great, it's probably about time, even today as I was checking in, the flights are pretty well full," said Gibeau. 

"It can't be soon enough to get us back on a higher quality of living."

With files from Dave Gilson

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