Canada is expected to announce an end to pre-arrival COVID-19 testing for vaccinated travellers, two federal government sources told Global News.
The requirement will be dropped by the end of March, the sources said. The formal announcement to the change is set to come on Thursday.
In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) confirmed that Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, Randy Boissonnault, along with other government officials, will hold a news conference on Thursday, 10.30 a.m. ET, to announce updates to border measures.
Currently, travellers entering Canada are required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 antigen test taken within 24 hours of their flight or arrival at the country’s border.
They also have the option to provide a PCR test taken within 72 hours of their flight or arrival.
The move comes as tourism and business groups have been calling on the federal government to remove COVID-19 testing requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers.
The measure is no longer necessary at this point in the pandemic, they say.
“Businesses are becoming more confident that we are past the need to rely on restrictive measures like lockdowns to manage the virus,” said Lindsay Broadhead, the senior vice-president of communications and public affairs at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, during a press conference last week.
“Travel and tourism are massive economic drivers in our province and many businesses in Toronto and across the country depend on international travellers, particularly business travellers,” Broadhead said.
Nancy Tudorache from the Global Business Travel Association agreed.
“The current travel measures in place are a barrier to travel. These measures simply do not permit flexibility or schedule changes,” Tudorache said.
“They add tremendous uncertainty, they hurt corporate productivity, create financial burdens for businesses looking to send their employees into Canada or returning back to Canada.”
At the end of February, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that those coming to Canada would be able to present a negative rapid-antigen test at the border as a substitute to a more costly and time-consuming molecular test.
He said, at the time, that he would consider easing COVID-19 travel restrictions further if the epidemiological situation continued to get better, hospitalizations declined and Canadians continued to get their booster shots.
He also said the government would move away from strict restrictions now that Canada has more tools to deal with the pandemic.
Over the last several weeks, Canada’s grip on COVID-19 cases has been improving, but the World Health Organization (WHO) says rates have begun to creep up in various parts of the world.
New infections jumped by eight per cent globally compared to the previous week, with 11 million new cases and just over 43,000 new deaths reported from March 7-13, the WHO said Wednesday. It is the first rise since the end of January.
Experts have begun to warn that more countries could soon see a similar wave to that seen in Europe, potentially driven by the BA.2 variant, the lifting of restrictions and potential waning immunity from vaccines given several months ago.
“I agree with the easing of restrictions, because you can’t think of it as an emergency after two years,” said Antonella Viola, professor of immunology at Italy’s University of Padua.
“We just have to avoid thinking that COVID is no longer there. And therefore maintain the strictly necessary measures, which are essentially the continuous monitoring and tracking of cases, and the maintenance of the obligation to wear a mask in closed or very crowded places.”
— with files from Marc-Andre Cossette, Ryan Rocca and Reuters
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