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Canada requiring tests for all travellers, ending 10-country travel ban

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Canada is once again requiring all incoming travellers, regardless of trip length or location, to provide proof of a pre-arrival negative molecular COVID-19 test in order to enter the country, and is ending its travel ban on 10 African countries.

The federal government announced Friday that the updated pre-arrival testing requirement will come into effect on Dec. 21.

This means that as of next Tuesday, all travellers coming back into Canada after trips of 72 hours or less to the United States or other international locations will have to take a PCR test in a country other than Canada, before their scheduled departure.

This requirement was already in place for anyone coming into the country from longer trips abroad.

Asked what the justification was for reinstating that rule for short trips, given incubation periods, Health Minister jean-Yves Duclos said that while it may not catch every case, it’s “an additional layer” of protection for both the travellers and for those who would be exposed to them once they come back home.

In addition to the pre-departure tests, late last month the government imposed new on-arrival testing requirements on all air travellers coming from outside of Canada with the exception of the U.S., due to concerns over the Omicron variant.

This policy requires any travellers entering the country to be tested upon arrival—either at the airport or in some cases given a take-home test—and isolate until they receive a negative result. This policy has not changed. However, Duclos signalled that the federal government is preparing new land-crossing measures, including likely ramping up on-arrival testing.

Over the last few weeks, the federal government has been scaling up capacity at airports to conduct the required on-arrival tests, though they are still not at full capacity to administer these tests.

“Officials are working closely with airport authorities, airlines, and testing providers and many other partners to increase capacity at airports, manage traveller flow, and to make sure that the best testing protocol are implemented and as efficiently as possible,” Duclos said Friday.

ENDING BAN ON 10 COUNTRIES

As for the ending of the additional measures for travellers returning from South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt, the policy will be lifted as of Dec. 18 at 11:59pm.

The ban restricted the entry into Canada of all foreign nationals who travelled to these countries in the last 14 days. Canadians, permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada have still been able to fly home but have faced new testing and government quarantine facility stays upon arrival.

Now, citing the widespread community transmission of Omicron across the globe, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Friday that upon reconsideration, these measures are no longer required for these specific nations.

Canada had been facing questions about the ongoing scientific basis for these measures given other nations have lifted their bans, with federal health officials earlier this week stating they couldn’t say what the rationale was and that the policy should be re-examined.

“While we recognize that this initial emergency measure created controversy, we believe it was a necessary measure to slow the arrival of Omicron in Canada at a time of uncertainty and unknowns,” Duclos said. “Given the current situation, this measure has served its purpose.”

'NOT THE TIME TO TRAVEL'

On Wednesday, the federal government reinstated its non-essential travel advisory, calling on Canadians to avoid international travel due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Duclos said Friday that because the government is still learning about Omicron and its transmissibility, severity and the ongoing effectiveness of vaccines and treatments against the new variant, it is necessary to continue evolving Canada’s border measures.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that increasingly Omicron cases in Canada are “not linked to travel,” and have been found in individuals who are unvaccinated, fully vaccinated, and previously infected. Federal officials continue to encourage all who can to book booster shot appointments.

“I will say it again: now is not the time to travel,” said the health minister.

“We know how difficult it is for Canadians to have to postpone their travel to visit families or friends or to take a break abroad. We are also aware of the many Canadians who are listening, and are cancelling their trips. These Canadians are leading by example and helping protect the health of their family, their community and of themselves. We do not want you to be stranded or sick abroad.”

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