'Great step forward': Travel industry applauds suspension of random COVID-19 testing at airports
The federal government has announced that it will be suspending mandatory random COVID-19 testing at all airports for vaccinated travellers starting June 11.
Between June 11 and June 30, randomized testing at Canadian airports will be “temporarily suspended,” although unvaccinated travellers will continue to be tested on-site. As of July 1, all testing, including for unvaccinated travellers, will be performed off-site.
"The Government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers. We continue to work with airports, airlines, baggage handlers, and other partners to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season," Transport Canada said in a statement on Friday.
This comes after mounting pressure from the travel and aviation industry calling on the federal government to ease COVID-19 restrictions amid long lines and delays at airports, particularly Toronto Pearson International Airport.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates Pearson Airport, had been urging the feds to temporarily pause on-site testing at airports as it expects international passenger numbers to jump by 50 per cent as the summer travel season ramps up.
"This is about much more than Toronto Pearson; it's about global perceptions of our country and the risk that Canada will lose billions of dollars from tourism and business activities if travellers decide that coming to Canada this summer simply isn't worth the hassle," GTAA CEO Deborah Flint said in a statement Thursday on delays at the airport.
The federal government had already exempted international travellers with a connecting flight from being pulled aside for random testing. Transport Canada says it has also hired 865 CATSA screening officers since April.
Other measures, such as COVID-19 vaccine mandates and mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app, remain in place. The federal government says the Public Health Agency of Canada is deploying additional staff to airports to verify ArriveCAN submissions and assist travellers in using the app.
During a virtual media briefing on Friday morning, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam called the random testing of travellers an "early warning system" designed to detect incoming variants.
"We do a randomized sample to select people coming from different areas of the world and are able to detect variants of concern," Tam said.
TRAVEL INDUSTRY APPLAUDS MOVE
The travel and aviation industries are welcoming the move to pause random testing at airports, calling it a step in the right direction.
On Twitter, the Canadian Airports Council called the move "a great step forward for travellers and Canada's tourism industry" while the National Airlines Council of Canada said it was "a positive step, rooted in science and evidence, that will improve conditions at Canada's airports and reduce complexity for travellers."
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada also tweeted that they were "thrilled to hear the news today."
"We hope that this becomes permanent and barriers continue to be removed for travel in Canada," the associated tweeted on Friday.
However, the Conservatives say pausing random testing doesn't go far enough and have been calling on the Liberals to lift all remaining COVID-19 travel measures, including vaccine mandates. Conservative transportation critic Melissa Lantsman called the move to pause random testing only to bring it back in July off-site a "poorly thought-out reaction" to the mounting pressure to lift restrictions.
"You cannot travel in this country if you are unvaccinated. You are still resuming testing on July 1. These are not measures. They are half measures. They are a reaction of the U.S., and the government is under pressure, and rightfully so, from Canadians because those lineups at Pearson are an abdication of responsibility by this federal government," Lantsman told CTV's Power Play on Friday.
Even within the Liberal caucus, there have been disagreements over the continuation of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for air and train travellers as well as foreign tourists entering Canada. Northern Ontario Liberal MP Marc Serré told reporters on Parliament Hill on Friday that he believes it's "probably time to move on."
"These mandates were important. There's a high vaccination rate. We have Canadians safe. There's a lot less people that have died here per capita than many other countries. So the mandates worked. The mandates are important, but now it's probably time to move on," he said.
Meanwhile, NDP transportation critic Taylor Bachrach believes the federal government needs to more transparent when it comes to making decisions on public health measures and says the Liberals should have been better prepared for the surge in demand for air travel.
"We need the government to provide the evidence. They need to explain the public health advice that they're getting from Dr. Tam, and they haven't been doing that and people are getting more and more frustrated because they see other jurisdictions that don't have the same public health measures," he said on Friday.