Mandatory random COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated air travellers resuming next week
Testing was suspended following massive delays at airports
The federal government says it will resume mandatory random COVID-19 testing of international travellers arriving at four major airports next week.
Ottawa suspended random testing for fully vaccinated travellers last month after airport authorities urged the government to drop the program, saying it was causing long delays at airports. Testing remained in place for those not considered fully vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated travellers will once again be subject to mandatory testing, although the government is moving the testing out of airports to nearby off-site locations, such as pharmacies. Travellers also can book a virtual self-swab appointment.
Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal could undergo random testing starting Tuesday.
Passengers selected for random testing at one of the four major airports who have connecting flights to other cities in Canada will not have to leave the airport for a test prior to their transfer. These passengers can get tested at a participating location at their final destination, or through a virtual self-swab appointment, the government says.
To qualify as a fully vaccinated traveller, a person must have received two doses of a recognized vaccine (like Pfizer, Moderna or Astra-Zeneca) or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Detecting new variants
The government maintains that random testing for air travellers is needed to detect new COVID-19 variants.
"As demand for travel increases across the world, today's announcement marks an important step in our progress to streamline testing processes outside our airports while preventing the further spread of COVID-19," Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a press release.
But the Conservative Party says the government's decision to reinstate random testing will hurt the tourism industry and inconvenience travellers.
"More vindictive COVID theatre directed by [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau will only serve to further discourage international travellers while also punishing Canadians enjoying their well-deserved travel plans without unnecessary obstacles," the party said in a media statement.
Tourism industry leaders 'disappointed'
Tourism industry leaders are also criticizing the government's decision to reinstate testing for international air travellers. The Canadian Tourism Roundtable, which represents the tourism and travel sector, released a statement calling the move "unnecessary."
"As our industry works with government, agencies and partners to combat wait times and delays, this announcement marks a step backward that unfairly targets Canada's tourism sector and negatively impacts Canadian and international travellers," the statement said.
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A spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), the organization that runs Toronto's Pearson International Airport, said the authority is "pleased" that testing is moving offsite.
The GTAA had been one of the most vocal critics of the government prior to the suspension of random testing. The spokesperson said suspending testing at the airport has reduced delays.
"The temporary pause in mandatory random testing at airports was helpful as it resulted in a smoother experience for arriving passengers," the spokesperson said in a statement.
Aéroports de Montréal — which runs Montréal–Trudeau International Airport — and the Calgary Airport Authority also approved of the decision to move testing off-site.
Those selected for random testing must complete the test within one day of their arrival, the government says.