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PCR travel tests remain because Canada’s not ‘out of the woods yet,’ Tam says

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Canada isn’t ready to scrap the COVID-19 PCR testing requirement for fully-vaccinated travellers despite lifting a blanket advisory against non-essential travel, officials say.

Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, told reporters during a news conference on Friday that while officials are reviewing protective measures at border entries, the country isn’t “out of the woods yet.”

“I have to remind people that the pandemic is very much alive outside of Canada,” she said.

“Many countries continue to require a pre-departure test, and it adds a layer of protection for any traveller – not just Canadians coming into Canada but travellers from any corners of the world, so it is something we will look at.”

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Read more: Canada lifts blanket advisory against non-essential travel introduced amid COVID-19

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Tam’s comments come after the federal government quietly lifted its advisory against all non-essential travel abroad, which was introduced in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

However, eased measures only apply for fully-vaccinated travellers.

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The government advises that international travellers should be fully vaccinated for at least 14 days before travelling, and they must follow local public health guidelines in the country they are visiting.

While Canada is seeing its fourth wave decline, some parts of the country are still struggling with COVID-19, Tam said.

In Saskatchewan, rising infections and hospitalizations have pushed the health-care system to the brink where patients are being transferred to Ontario for care. Deaths continue to climb as well, with the province recording 800 fatalities as of Thursday.

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“Now is not the time to freely go wherever,” Tam said, adding officials will provide guidance in the weeks to come to help travellers with their vacation choices.

“The next months, as I describe it, one would expect some ups and downs and bumps along the way in our pandemic trajectory,” she said.

“We’ve just got to be a bit careful as we head into the winter season, trying to keep our schools, workplaces and other socially and economically important spaces open as much as possible.”

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer of Canada, told reporters in French that if fully-vaccinated Canadians decide to book vacations that they should be aware of “risks and benefits of the trip.”

“It’s very important to consider the epidemiological situation and vaccination coverage of your destination,” he said. “It’s also important to consider what public health measures are in place abroad or restrictions at the border.”

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Read more: Business groups urge Canada to scrap PCR test requirement, as U.S. border nears reopening

Boards of trade, chambers of commerce and tourism organizations, both in the United States and Canada, have been calling on the federal government to drop their requirement for proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test between countries.

“What we hope to get to is just showing a vaccination card like you would have to for theatre, music or sports,” Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Guy Ochiogrosso previously told Global News.

Private companies offer the test for more than $200 in most places.

“When both sides of the border are aligned and it is similar to what we all experience as a new normal, that is when we will see an increase in normal activities.”

–With files from Richard Zussman and Kelly Skjerven

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