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New border testing rules could be confusing for enforcers, passengers: Airlines

An Air Canada Airbus A321 jet (C-FGKN) takes off from Vancouver International Airport, Richmond, B.C. on Friday, November 20, 2020 on a cross-border flight between Vancouver and Los Angeles. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Bayne Stanley

The National Airlines Council of Canada said there are still major issues that need to be addressed as Ottawa rolls out a COVID-19 testing requirement for air passengers arriving from abroad.

The group’s comments come as the federal government said Thursday that as of Jan. 7, all air passengers five years of age or older will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before traveling by from another country to Canada.

Read more: New coronavirus testing rules for travellers landing in Canada to start Jan. 7

Prior to boarding a flight to Canada, passengers will have to present airlines with documentation of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to their scheduled departure, the government said.

Mike McNaney, the NACC’s president and CEO, said additional clarity is needed regarding the format in which passengers must present their testing results and passengers’ options if their jurisdiction does not offer the kind of test the government accepts.

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“We fully support testing and the implementation of a testing strategy and regime,” McNaney said. “But the objective is to do it in a consistent and thorough fashion, and to tie it to quarantine measures.”

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The National Airlines Council of Canada is an industry group that represents the country’s major carriers, including Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet.

McNaney added that the lack of consultation with airlines on the new measures risks creating confusion for airlines, passengers and front-line government workers trying to enforce the rules.

Yves-Francois Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, said the testing requirement should apply to all border crossings, not just to airports. He also said the government should reimburse anyone out of the country who finds themselves with extra costs as a result of the planned rules.

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Read more: Canada to require all arriving air passengers to show negative COVID-19 test

Along with requests for financial assistance, industry groups representing airlines and airports have called on the government to replace the mandatory 14-day quarantine for international travellers with a program that tests airline passengers on arrival in Canada.

However, the measures announced Thursday would not replace the existing quarantine period, government officials said.

Daniel-Robert Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, said that although the group approved of testing international travellers, he was concerned that the testing requirement coupled with the 14-day quarantine was overly restrictive for passengers.

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On Thursday afternoon, Unifor, a trade union that represents 300,000 airline workers, renewed its call for government assistance for the airline sector in light of the new testing requirement.

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“Yesterday’s announcement is important to protect the public safety of all Canadians, but at the same time, the federal government’s continued refusal to provide adequate financial support for the 300,000 airline workers puts the very future of Canada’s airline industry in jeopardy,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National president.