Here's how offsite random testing will work for international air travellers

Starting Tuesday, international travellers arriving at four of Canada's major airports could be required again to undergo mandatory random COVID-19 testing after a brief suspension of the program.

Government moving testing out of airports in an attempt to address long delays

An arrivals board at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Dec. 21, 2020. The government is resuming mandatory random COVID testing for international air travellers on July 19. (EVAN MITSUI)

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Starting Tuesday, international travellers arriving at four of Canada's major airports could be required again to undergo mandatory random COVID-19 testing after a brief suspension of the program.

The government hit pause on random testing for passengers considered fully vaccinated last month as it prepared to move testing offsite in an attempt to reduce long delays at airports.

The government maintains that random testing for air travellers is needed to detect new COVID-19 variants, although the opposition Conservatives and the tourism industry are voicing their disapproval of the decision.

Here's what international travellers will need to know before arriving in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver or Montreal.

How will I know if I've been selected for random testing?

Travellers selected for random testing should receive an email notification within 15 minutes of passing through customs, according to a government news release.

"The email will contain information to help them arrange for their test with a testing provider in their region," the release says.

International travellers are still required to register through the ArriveCAN app or website 72 hours before their arrival in Canada.

What if I have a connecting flight to another airport?

Those arriving in Canada at one of the four participating airports who are catching connecting flights to other destinations might still be selected for random tests.

Passengers with connecting flights will not be forced to leave the airports in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal or Vancouver to go to a testing site in those cities.

Instead, the government says those passengers can go to participating testing sites at their final destinations or book virtual self-swab appointments.

A COVID-19 test is performed at Pearson airport in Toronto. Tests will no longer be performed at airports. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Where are the participating offsite testing locations?

Offsite testing for travellers will be conducted by private lab companies, such as Dynacare, LifeLabs and Switch Health.

The labs available vary by province. Travellers can check the government's website to learn where to go in their region.

An offsite testing provider may also send travellers to a pharmacy for a test.

A notification email will also indicate where a traveller can be tested in their region, the government says.

What if I test positive?

Government rules state that if you test positive on arrival, you must isolate for 10 days.

If you test negative but start experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the rules say you still need to isolate for the same period.

Do I have to pay for the test myself?

No, the government covers the cost of the test.

What if I recently recovered from a COVID-19 infection?

Passengers who can prove they recently recovered from a COVID-19 infection can be exempt from random testing.

Antibodies from an infection can prevent someone from getting the virus again, but that protection wanes over time.

Travellers who can show a positive molecular test that was taken between 10 and 180 days before their arrival can be exempt from random testing, but the government won't accept a rapid test result as proof of infection.

Can I take a rapid test myself?

The government won't accept a rapid antigen test from travellers who have been selected for random testing. Only the tests performed by the contracted companies will be accepted.


Darren Major

CBC journalist

Darren Major can be reached via email darren.major@cbc.ca or by tweeting him @DMajJourno.

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