OTTAWA — Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has announced that the government will pause all mandatory random COVID-19 tests at Canada’s airports for vaccinated travellers from Saturday until the end of the month.
After that, mandatory rapid tests for incoming travellers will happen in the community.
For now, unvaccinated travellers will still be tested at airports, but the government plans to move that testing off-site next month as well.
The government previously said current public health measures would remain in place until the end of June, but has been facing mounting pressure from industry and opposition to improve the chaotic situation playing out in Canada’s airports.
“The government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers,” Alghabra and his fellow ministers said in a statement Friday.
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, made up of industry groups, blames recent havoc at Canadian airports on the COVID-19 surveillance measures imposed on passengers attempting to pass through customs.
While the public health measures were manageable during the heat of the pandemic when far fewer people were travelling, the roundtable says it’s not sustainable given the current demand for flights.
Toronto Pearson International in particular was dubbed “hell on earth” by former NHL player and podcast host Ryan Whitney in a viral video posted earlier this week. Other travellers report hours-long lineups, being held on the tarmac without food or water while waiting for their turn to enter the airport, missed connections and delayed flights.
The roundtable of travel groups, which includes Canada’s airports, has all but begged the government to lift randomized COVID-19 tests from airports before June 15, when travel season is expected to really take off.
The group still urges the government to do away with the test requirement altogether and lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions — including vaccine mandates for passengers and staff.
“Canada’s outdated rules are causing unacceptable delays at the country’s major airports, keeping international visitors away and souring Canada’s reputation on the world stage,” the roundtable said in a statement Friday evening.
Earlier in the day, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the random tests act as an “early warning system” for new variants of the virus entering Canada.
“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 at a public health briefing.
While cabinet is responsible for mandating COVID-19 measures, Alghabra has recently said the politicians are “following the science” on the issue and receiving advice from public health experts.
The tourism roundtable has also called for the government to remove COVID-19-related questions from the ArriveCan app to speed lines up at the airport. Instead, the government announced it would station extra Public Health Agency of Canada workers at airports to verify that travellers have completed the questions and offer help to those who need it.
The government also recently announced it would attempt to hire more screening officers to help alleviate the long lines travellers have experienced for weeks.
The change happens at the same time as U.S. media outlets report the country will abandon negative COVID-19 tests as a requirement for entry — a measure Canada has already phased out.
The federal Opposition party has called for the government to revert to pre-pandemic regulations in an effort to get airports moving again, including an end to mask and vaccine mandates.
“Canadians deserve an honest answer from Trudeau why he is risking our international reputation, and condemning our tourism sector, by refusing to return to pre-pandemic travel restrictions,” said several Conservative opposition critics, including Transport critic Melissa Lantsman, in a statement Friday.
The government has not made changes to its vaccine mandate for domestic and international travellers.