The rule takes force at 12:01 a.m. ET on Jan. 7.
“This new interim order will provide an additional layer of protection for Canadians and travelers,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau, speaking in a Wednesday press conference.
The new measures will require all passengers on flights to Canada to present a negative COVID-19 test before they board the plane. The test must have been taken within the last 72 hours, with the exemption of those travelling from South America or the Caribbean – who, until January 14, will have a 92 hour window to have obtained the test.
Flight crew, passengers travelling from Haiti, and those under five years old are exempted from the new regulations – though the exemption for flights from Haiti is only applicable until January 21.
“The decision to implement the preboarding negative testing measures was not made lightly,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
“While we recognize that these measures may cause inconvenience and frustration to Canadians traveling back to Canada, we are doing, and will always do what is necessary to help protect the health and safety of all Canadians.”
Canada is bringing the measures into place in a bid to quell new cases of COVID-19, preventing those carrying the virus from stepping foot on Canadian soil. The restriction comes in addition to existing measures, which include tightened borders, recommendations against non-essential travel, and a mandatory 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving in Canada.
The government reiterated its recommendation against non-essential travel on Wednesday.
“Our messages to Canadians has been clear since the beginning of the pandemic. We strongly, strongly, strongly recommend to avoid all nonessential travel outside of Canada,” said Champagne.
Garneau echoed the message.
“As we have been saying for months, and I cannot say this strongly enough, nonessential travel continues to be strongly discouraged.
Trudeau also tried to dissuade prospective vacationers on Tuesday.
“No one should be vacationing abroad right now,” Trudeau said, speaking in a Tuesday press conference.
“So many people gave up so much more than just a vacation over the holidays. There’s a reason so many Canadians made those tough, but responsible decisions. There’s a reason so many Canadians did their part. It was for the people around them.”
For those who choose to disregard public health and government advice, though, that trip to sunbathe on the beach is about to get even harder to take, as travellers will have to find a testing site at their vacation destination that can swab them within three days of their flight back home.
This latest move has sent industry and passengers into a tailspin as they grapple with the new rules and demand further clarity.
“Canadians who are currently travelling and returning to Canada soon should start immediately arranging for a COVID-19 test, to avoid a delay in their return to Canada,” read the Dec. 31 release from Transport Canada, which detailed the new restrictions.
“Canadians who are planning to travel abroad should consider how they will meet these requirements before departure.”
The release also said the week in between the new testing requirement’s announcement and the restrictions actually coming into force should provide sufficient time for the industry and travellers to comply with the new rule.
Speaking to the Canadian Press on Monday, National Airlines Council of Canada chief executive Mike McNaney said the transport department had not yet provided a list of foreign agencies whose tests are acceptable – nor did the department outline the criteria for employees to determine whether a document detailing such a test is valid.
The new rule, McNaney said, will cause “confusion” and “frustration” for carriers and passengers alike.
Air Transat vice-president Christophe Hennebelle also said that the announcement was undertaken without prior consultation or providing notice to the industry.
Still, the government has been “working with airlines and other authorities” on the measures since the announcement, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said during a Tuesday press conference.
“It’s an important additional protection for Canadians, something that other countries have had in place as well.”
He noted that while the measure is currently only planned to apply to air travel, the government is considering whether to implement the testing requirement at land-border crossings.
“We haven’t decided yet in terms of land or border crossings,” LeBlanc said.
“The vast majority of people arriving at land borders are essential travelers, truck drivers, others fulfilling important essential activities for the Canadian economy including for the health and safety of Canadians.”
LeBlanc also reiterated that Canadians should not be traveling for non-essential reasons right now. Multiple politicians have been found to have taken vacations in sunny destinations of late, leading to a slew of resignations – and condemnation from both the public and their peers.
“It is a global pandemic, which means if you decide to go on holidays in the Caribbean or in Mexico or somewhere else, you’re not actually escaping the pandemic,” said LeBlanc.
“You’re acting in a way that’s irresponsible and doesn’t follow the best public health advice that has been available publicly for many months.”
A new variant of the coronavirus is among the risks waiting beyond Canada’s borders. While 11 cases of the variant have already been confirmed on Canadian soil, new measures are aimed in part at halting imported cases of the mutated virus – which has been found to spread more quickly than the original coronavirus variant.
The variant has been found to be between 50 and 70 per cent more infectious than the initial coronavirus strain that spread around the world. That reality has forced the U.K. to take extreme measures, including imposing a third country-wide lockdown, as the BBC reports as many as one-in-50 people in the U.K. might have the virus.
Still, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam reiterated that the U.K. isn’t the only vacation destination that carries a level of risk.
“These variants of concern that have mutations where we are worried, whether it’s increased transmissibility or other features, can actually come up in different areas of the world, not just the U.K.,” Tam said.
“So these broad recommendations of avoiding nonessential travel is really critical,” she added. “We’re going to do as much as we can to beef up looking at our enforcement measures.”