China's new COVID-related entry restrictions making travel for some P.E.I. residents harder than ever
Test needed to board flights not available on the Island
The latest requirements for travel to China are making it hard for people trying to get there from Prince Edward Island.
Before boarding, many foreign countries now require proof of a negative COVID-19 test, within the past 72 hours. But recently, the Chinese government added to that, requiring a serology test as well. That test has to have taken place 48 hours prior to departure for China.
A serology test — a blood test also known as an antibody test — does not detect the virus. The test detects whether a person has — at some point — been exposed to the virus, and has had a COVID-19 infection.
Antibody testing at private clinics is accessible in larger urban centres in other parts of Canada, but right now, people can't get the test on P.E.I.
'We are checking everywhere'
With this new rule, people headed to China from P.E.I. now have to arrange to go to one of those larger centres, get the test, and then continue with their trip.
"We are checking everywhere," said Ally Guo, a P.E.I. resident who volunteers with the Chinese community, and started a Facebook group — International Travel Helping Group — for anyone planning travel to China, and trying to figure out how to meet the entry requirements.
"The difficulty is there are still a lot of people who are afraid of going to the other provinces, because that means they are exposed to more risks for COVID," said Guo.
She said for those who aren't residents of the Island there's also the concern about leaving P.E.I., getting stuck somewhere else in Canada, and being unable to return, if for some reason they aren't able to board their flights to China.
"Some of them are just visitors," said Guo.
"If they cannot go, and are not residents, can they come back? I don't know. And some of them, their passports are expiring."
Extra costs, risks — especially for the elderly
For people like Sophy Huang, a permanent resident of P.E.I. who also lives and works in Shanghai, the added entry requirement means added stress. She travelled here with her uncle and 90-year-old grandmother last December and due to COVID wasn't able to book a flight back to China until this month.
She said the added travel, added expense and increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 are worrisome to her. And she is concerned for those wishing to travel to China, especially the elderly, when it comes to navigating large Canadian cities and not speaking the language.
"If they depart from P.E.I. [directly to China], it's easy for them. But if they need to go to other cities, [it's] too difficult for them. They cannot speak English," said Huang.
"They cannot [have] contact with other people. And some people have also said more cost and more unsafe for them. So we hope we can have the test in P.E.I."
Province offers assistance, but not test
Huang said if the test isn't made available on the Island, she will go ahead with her travel plans. But said her grandmother will remain on P.E.I. until she's able to take a quicker, more direct and less risky trip back to China.
"I can live with the difficulty," she said. "But my 90-year-old grandmother, she will have to stay here, and will not know how long she will stay here."
Health PEI confirms that serology testing is not available in Prince Edward Island. But officials said the province is working closely with those who need the test prior to international travel — which includes co-ordination in Toronto or Vancouver — to help facilitate the test elsewhere, within the required 48 hour period.