As of Nov. 30, Canadian citizens, permanent residents and individuals registered under the Indian Act will be exempted from the testing requirement.
The exemption also applies to children under 12, and individuals with medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccination.
However, fully vaccinated Canadians returning from trips longer than 72 hours will still be required to show proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test upon return.
“At the same time, we can’t let our guard down.”
Currently, travellers must show a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of their scheduled flight or arrival at the border, or proof of a previous positive test result taken between 14 and 180 days before travel.
Some private companies in the United States offer PCR tests for travellers for more than $200, which border town mayors have complained about as rules around travel eased.
Infectious disease researcher at McGill University, Dr. Jesse Papenburg, said the new measures “makes sense” for short trips given that it takes a few days for signs of the virus to show.
“Really the chance that PCR testing … would detect an infection that was acquired in the United States is actually quite low,” he said. “Even if they turn out negative, they might miss the infection.”
Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said, though, that the new measures put a “one-way door” at the Canada-U.S. border.
“Instead of abolishing the molecular test for fully-vaccinated travellers, however, the government will require it for any foreigners coming into Canada and for Canadians who are abroad for more than 72 hours,” Beatty said in a statement.
“Just as the holiday shopping season, the most important period for the retail sector, begins, Ottawa is making it easier for Canadians to cross-border shop while maintaining punitive restrictions that discourage fully-vaccinated Americans from vacationing or shopping in Canada.”
Conservative MP and transportation critic Melissa Lantsman said the new policy is a “half-measure” and “confusing.”
New York congressman Rep. Brian Higgins said he also wants the testing requirement scrapped entirely for vaccinated travellers.
“The public is again left confused and waiting for more information,” he said in a statement.
“The same standard should be applied to all vaccinated travellers regardless of which side of the border you are crossing into or where you live.”
Friday’s announcement included a slew of other border measure changes, such as expanding the list of acceptable COVID-19 vaccines travellers may have when entering Canada.
The measure, which will also start Nov. 30, includes vaccines such as Sinopharm, Sinovac and COVAXIN, matching the World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing.
Also starting Nov. 30, vaccination will be required for travel within Canada and when leaving the country. A negative COVID-19 molecular test will no longer be accepted as an alternative to vaccination unless travellers have an exemption, such as a medical reason to not be vaccinated.
Furthermore, come Jan. 15, certain groups of travellers currently exempt from entry requirements will only be allowed to enter Canada if they are fully vaccinated with one of the vaccines approved for entry into the country.
Some of these groups include international students who are 18 years old and older, professional and amateur athletes, individuals with a valid work permit and essential service providers like truck drivers.
After that day, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated foreign nationals can only enter Canada if they meet the criteria for limited exceptions.
Those groups include agricultural and food processing workers, marine crew members, those entering on compassionate grounds, new permanent residents, resettling refugees and some children under the age of 18.
-With files from Eric Stober