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Canada reintroducing PCR test for any length of travel abroad amid Omicron

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Canada reintroduces PCR test for any length of travel, lifts ban on 10 African countries'
COVID-19: Canada reintroduces PCR test for any length of travel, lifts ban on 10 African countries
WATCH: Canada reintroduces PCR test for any length of travel, lifts ban on 10 African countries – Dec 17, 2021

The federal government is reintroducing the requirement for a pre-arrival negative PCR COVID-19 test for all travellers entering Canada regardless of how long trips are.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos made the announcement Friday as Canada continues to see a rise in Omicron COVID-19 infections.

Starting Dec. 21, all travellers entering Canada will need to show proof of a negative molecular test, like the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. This includes Canadians re-entering the country from trips abroad that were less than 72 hours, Duclos said.

“As I announced Wednesday, the Government of Canada is advising Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country,” Duclos said. “I will say it again: now is not the time to travel.”

Read more: Omicron FAQ: Everything you need to know about the COVID-19 variant

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Only last month, the federal government announced it was dropping the negative test requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians returning home from short international trips under 72 hours.

Fully vaccinated Canadians returning from trips longer than 72 hours were still required to show proof of a negative molecular test upon return.

Canada’s testing rules for travel indicate travellers must show a negative COVID-19 molecular 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.

Duclos said the pre-arrival test must be taken in a country other than Canada, and that officials are working with airport authorities, airlines and testing providers to increase testing capacity at airports for an efficient process.

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Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, told reporters molecular testing needed to be re-examined as the Omicron variant spreads worldwide.

“If you went to the United States and you catch COVID-19, it does take a bit of time for incubation to occur,” she said.

“It may not catch everyone, but … we are still using a method of mandatory random testing to potentially detect others.”

In addition to the PCR reinstatement, Duclos announced Canada is dropping the travel bans imposed on 10 African nations, which were introduced last month to help limit the spread of the variant.

Omicron has since been found to be spreading in Canada through community transmission, Tam said. So far, close to 350 confirmed cases have been reported across 11 provinces and territories, she added.

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Read more: Canadians should adjust holiday plans amid Omicron, Canada’s top doctor urges 

Starting Saturday at 11:59 p.m., the bans impacting travellers from Nigeria, Malawi, Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini will be lifted.

“While we recognize the controversial nature of such a prohibition, we believe it was a necessary measure to slow the arrival of Omicron in Canada and buy us some time,” Duclos said.

“Given the current situation, this measure has served its purpose and is no longer needed.”

Click to play video: 'Efforts to limit spread of Omicron over holiday season in Ontario'
Efforts to limit spread of Omicron over holiday season in Ontario

As Omicron spreads in Canada, officials have been introducing measures to slow transmission of the variant. The Public Health Agency of Canada projected if Omicron becomes the dominant strain of the virus in the country, cases will skyrocket by the new year.

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Ontario logged 3,124 new cases on Friday. while Quebec logged 3,768 new cases, the highest recorded ever in a single day in the province.

In the past week, Canada has seen 35,000 new cases of COVID-19. Throughout the country, there are 43,909 active infections, federal data indicates.

Read more: New COVID-19 testing rules could cause ‘chaos’ at Canadian airports: industry groups

Canada’s vaccination rate currently sits at 76 per cent among the entire population, but with the potential for Omicron to make current vaccines less effective, officials across Canada are pushing for those eligible to get a booster shot to increase protection.

But according to Ontario COVID-19 modellers, boosters alone won’t be able to blunt the impact of Omicron. Experts are calling for community contacts to be significantly reduced, or else the province’s ICU capacity could be severely strained by early January.

“I know we are all wary, but as all storms run out of wind and rain, so too will this one,” Tam said.

“For now, we must all hold on tight to our protections for ourselves and each other a while longer.”

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