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'The time has finally come': Feds axing pre-arrival COVID-19 test for vaccinated travellers

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Declaring Canada in a “transition phase” in the COVID-19 pandemic, federal officials have announced that fully vaccinated travellers entering Canada will not have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test as of April 1.

“I think it's fair to say that we are now entering into a transition phase of this pandemic,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos as he announced the latest easing of pandemic travel restrictions.

As CTV News has reported, the pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers at land, air, and marine borders will no longer be in place by the end of the month.

Until 12:01 a.m. ET on April 1, fully vaccinated travellers must still show a valid pre-entry test.

Passengers may still be subjected to random PCR testing at the airport—in part to monitor for new variants— though they will not be required to isolate while awaiting their results.

Unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated travellers will still face pre-entry, on-arrival testing and quarantine requirements.

All travellers will still have to use the ArriveCAN app or online form to enter their proof of vaccination and other required information within 72 hours before their arrival in Canada. Travellers who do not complete this submission may face testing and isolation requirements, regardless of vaccination status, according to the government.

All travellers will still have to use the ArriveCAN app or online form to enter their proof of vaccination and other required information.

The requirement to be fully vaccinated in order to board federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation remains in effect, with the government indicating no intention to lift their proof of vaccine policy for travel at this time.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that for cruise passengers when the season starts in early April, they will still be required to take an antigen test no more than one day before their scheduled departure, but no longer will need to be tested before getting off the ship. All other requirements for cruises remain in place.

“Today is a day that many of us have been waiting for. It is a great day for Canadian travelers, tourism and aviation,” Alghabra said.

As the border rules stand, fully vaccinated travellers are required to show proof of a health professional-administered negative rapid antigen test taken ahead of a scheduled flight or crossing at a land border.

This has been the policy since late February, when the government eased the requirement for all travellers to present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of their arrival.

Eliminating the testing requirement is something that travel and tourism organizations as well as the mayors of border towns have been calling for, arguing that the requirement is not justified by science and presented an unnecessary logistical and financial burden on travellers.

“The time has finally come,” said Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault on Thursday, noting that the sector has struggled to stay afloat through the pandemic. “Canada's tourism sector is ready to ensure the safety of travellers, employers, and the communities in which they operate. They are ready to welcome back the world.”

Last month, the government lifted its travel advisory against all non-essential international travel, opening up the feasibility of vacation and other trips abroad.

“We are making it easier for people from around the world to visit Canada this spring, and beyond. And they will come. With our high vaccination rates and our focus on health and safety, Canada has a huge advantage in attracting visitors because they know it's safe to travel to Canada,” Boissonnault said.

Industry stakeholders have welcomed the news, saying it brings Canada in alignment with other countries and as the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable put it: “brings the industry closer to a return to normal."

“The federal government’s decision to remove the pre-entry test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers is great news for Canadians,” said the Canadian Airports Council in a statement. “This is a major step forward… and allows individuals and businesses to plan their summer and fall travel.”

In Thursday’s announcement, the government did not have any further updates to border measures, though Duclos said that officials continue to monitor the epidemiological situation and changes could be made as infection trends both in Canada and abroad evolve.

This comes as the World Health Organization is cautioning there is currently an increase in international cases recently, including in Europe, the Western Pacific, and Africa.

Duclos said that as the weather gets warmer and people start spending more time outside, the government is expecting to see transmission decline in the coming months, but Canada has to “be prepared for a waning of collective and individual immunity.”

Still, the government says it has no plans to update its proof of vaccination systems to require booster doses.

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