'Fantastic news': Travel industry applauds end to COVID-19 PCR testing requirements for vaccinated travellers
The travel industry is applauding the federal government's decision to remove the COVID-19 PCR testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers entering or returning to Canada.
"It's fantastic news," said Marty Firestone, president of Travel Secure Inc., in an interview with CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced on Tuesday afternoon that starting Feb. 28, fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed to cross into Canada with proof of an antigen test rather than a slower and more expensive PCR test.
"The difference between a PCR test requirement and a rapid antigen requirement is night and day," Firestone said. "It's going to make your trip a totally different experience not having to worry about getting the PCR test."
The federal government strengthened travel restrictions last December amid the rise of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, mandating a pre-departure PCR test for travellers entering Canada, regardless of vaccination status. The feds also imposed a travel advisory against non-essential international travel.
In addition to the eased testing requirements, the new rules mean travellers will no longer have to quarantine while awaiting their test results if they get randomly selected for testing. Duclos also announced that the government would be easing its current advisory recommending Canadians avoid non-essential travel.
The tourism and travel industry had been calling on Canada to ease its COVID-19 restrictions at the border. The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, made up of industry, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday calling for an end to the "unnecessary" testing requirements as well as the federal government's advisory against non-essential international travel.
"It's time to get back to business and back to travel," Beth Potter, who is the president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, said the travel restrictions have been "catastrophic" for the industry.
"We had seen a surge in bookings starting in the fall and then they disappeared with the Omicron variant," she told CTV News Channel. "But ever since the variant has peaked, there has been a surge in demand for bookings. Canadians are ready to travel."
The roundtable said Canada had been lagging behind other countries that have already removed their COVID-19 travel restrictions, such as the U.K., Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland and Norway. Paradis says some international tourists are choosing to avoid Canada because of the burdensome testing requirements.
"That really is a challenge for our travel and tourism industry," Paradis said. "They are choosing countries other than Canada because we now have a reputation that we are a closed country and we as an industry and the government need to work together to really change that message to the world."
The U.S. also allows travellers to use antigen tests for pre-departure testing. Firestone also hopes to see the antigen testing requirement lifted eventually.
"Hopefully there will not be another variant and hopefully we lose the negative antigen test (requirement) and we can go on three-day trips without having to get tested at all," Firestone said.
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