People line up and check in for an international flight at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ban on U.K. flights to Canada expires as testing scheme takes effect

Ban on U.K. flights to Canada expires as testing scheme takes effect

OTTAWA — Canada’s ban on flights from the United Kingdom is not being extended, replaced by a stringent COVID-19 testing program for air travellers.

Canada halted most air travel from the U.K., where a mutated strain of COVID-19 had been discovered, on Dec. 20.

New rules that require passengers returning from abroad to show proof of negative COVID-19 test results will prevent the virus from bleeding across borders, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said.

Effective Thursday, passengers aged five and older must take a PCR test — the type of test common in Canada involving a deep nasal swab, and distinct from a rapid test.

The test has to be administered less than 72 hours before the scheduled departure, or 96 hours in the cases of 28 countries and territories, mainly in the Caribbean and South America, Garneau said at a virtual press conference. The four-day timeframe for those 28 jurisdictions shrinks to three days as of Jan. 14, however.

Airlines say they were not initially consulted on the testing scheme, which they will be responsible for enforcing at check-in counters around the globe.

Cabinet ministers appealed to Canadians to stay on home turf as coronavirus case counts reach new daily highs, and as some federal and provincial politicians take heat and lose jobs over holiday trips abroad.

“We strongly, strongly, strongly recommend to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada,” said Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

“Canadians are understandably concerned and upset about these travellers,” added Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

“There is not just a legal obligation but a moral one … Lives are at stake. We have already lost far too many people.”

Airlines and passengers have raised concerns about testing capacity in some countries, with the fear that some travellers could wind up stranded overseas.

“We consider that it is perfectly reasonable within 72 hours to get the PCR test and to get results” — electronically or on paper — Garneau told reporters.

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu acknowledged that the requirement serves as a deterrent.

“This is exactly why we are advising people not to travel internationally,” she said. “The reality is they may find it difficult even in countries that have the PCR testing capacity to acquire a test within the required timeframe.”

Airlines are scrambling to draw up lists of overseas agencies and test centres for travellers to use, though Garneau said Transport Canada may publish a similar list down the line.

Conservative transport critic Stephanie Kusie called the plan “unacceptable” and suggested the Liberals remodel it based on a pilot project underway at Calgary’s airport.

Canadians can take on-site COVID-19 tests after touching down there, and must then self-isolate for 24 to 48 hours while they wait for results. If they test negative, they can leave quarantine but must monitor themselves for symptoms and get second swabs within six to seven days of their arrival date.

“Now, in a hastily conceived plan announced six days ago, on New Year’s Eve, without any consultation or coordination with Canada’s airlines, the Liberal government has imposed a poorly thought out testing requirement with little information and few resources to execute,” Kusie said in a statement.

In a separate announcement, Ontario said it will launch a pilot program to voluntarily test incoming passengers at Toronto’s Pearson airport.

Some uncertainty lingers around the federal rules.

It is unclear whether airlines whose flights are cancelled and rebooked days later — a common occurrence since March as demand collapsed — will accept tests administered within the timeframe of the initially scheduled departure but not within 72 hours of the rescheduled trip, said Air Transat spokesman Christophe Hennebelle.

Garneau’s spokeswoman Allison St-Jean said carriers can fall back on the originally scheduled takeoff time in “unforeseen circumstances” such as bad weather or mechanical delays.

Other requirements have tightened since the basic plan was announced last Thursday.

It stated travellers from countries where testing was unavailable could return, but would have to spend their quarantine in a “federal facility.” Now, only two places — Haiti and Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a French territory off the coast of Newfoundland — are exempt from the test mandate, and only until Jan. 21 and Jan. 14, respectively.

Border agents will question and observe arriving passengers at four airports — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary — with 230 officers set to question travellers at customs halls, baggage areas and inspection lines since late December, Blair said.

About 180 more federal public health officers have also been posted to points of entry across the country, he said.

Before departure, airlines will continue to take passengers’ temperatures, ask questions including whether they’ve been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 and assess them for symptoms, Garneau said.

Returning travellers will have to submit a health questionnaire through the ArriveCAN app or web portal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

A firetruck sits in front of a home on Harvey Close in Red Deer Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to Red Deer fire

Red Deer firefighters responded to a blaze in the north part of… Continue reading

(Courtesy photo)
Red Deer rental prices drop slightly

Renting an apartment in Red Deer became slightly cheaper last month.… Continue reading

Rylee Trippel was last seen Friday. (Photo contributed by RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for missing teen

Police are looking for a teen who was last seen in the… Continue reading

The Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60,000 in 2020. (Photo courtesy Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Facebook)
Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60K in 2020

The executive director of the Red Deer Outreach Centre says she is… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

RCMP say missing teen Hope Tivendale has been found. (File photo by Advocate staff)
No foul play suspected after burned body of homeless person found in North Vancouver

VANCOUVER — A burned body, believed to be of a homeless person,… Continue reading

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada has approved its rapid COVID-19 test

TORONTO — An Ottawa company says it’s received approval from Health Canada… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends decision to back, then oust, Sloan

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he was once willing to… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault pauses as he speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Non-essential travel ban would violate Constitution but courts might allow it: expert

MONTREAL — Fear that Quebecers will catch a new variant of COVID-19… Continue reading

A woman walks outside the Roberta Place Long Term Care home in Barrie, Ont. on Monday, January 18, 2021. The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in Canada has underscored the need for increased public funding for home care, advocates say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
COVID-19 deaths in long-term care reveal need for home supports: advocates

VANCOUVER — The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in… Continue reading

A Chinese flag is illuminated by sunshine in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, September 22, 2016. China is threatening retaliation against Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned a new security law giving Beijing more control over Hong Kong.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Diplomats contact Canadian held for over 2 years in China

BEIJING — Canadian officials have met online with former diplomat Michael Kovrig,… Continue reading

Marc Gold (centre) stands with senators André Pratte (left) and Peter Harder before being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Senator urges study of vexing barriers to using secret information in court cases

OTTAWA — A Senate committee should examine the hurdles that make it… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Winnipeg ticket holder wins Friday night’s $60 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — A ticket holder from Winnipeg won Friday night’s whopping $60… Continue reading

Most Read