OTTAWA — Vaccinated travellers will no longer need a molecular COVID-19 test to enter Canada starting Feb. 28, and can instead opt for a potentially cheaper and easier to access rapid test.
The change comes as sunny news to some travellers looking forward to a March break getaway, but tourism and airline associations feel the government needs to go further to clear the way for vaccinated people to travel freely.
The rapid tests would have to be managed by a laboratory, health care or telehealth provider, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Tuesday.
The new rules are more closely aligned with those of the United States which allows people to perform a rapid antigen test on themselves, as long as the test is affiliated with a telehealth service that will verify the user’s identity, supervise the test and provide written documentation.
Some fully vaccinated travellers might still be randomly selected for a molecular test at the airport, but they will not need to quarantine while they wait for the result.
To make travel easier for families, unvaccinated children under the age of 12, travelling with vaccinated adults, will no longer have to isolate from school, daycare or other public places for 14 days after they arrive in Canada either.
“Having the PCR test requirement removed just makes it that much easier and less expensive for travellers right now,” said Flight Centre spokeswoman Allison Wallace.
Depending on the destination, many places offer to verify and document rapid test results in pharmacies, making them just as easy to access as a molecular or PCR test at a far reduced cost and with much faster turnaround, she said.
A molecular test can run between $100 to $250 per test, which adds up quickly for families, Wallace said. “The PCR testing … seems to be the No. 1 deterrent by far, of anything right now, keeping people from travelling.”
The government also plans to lift its advisory urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country due to the risk of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but warns international travel is still not without risk.
Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty said the changes gradually move Canada toward what is happening in other major jurisdictions.
But in his role as co-chair of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, Beatty also called on the federal government to offer a clear timeline for removing travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers and their children — including test and isolation requirements and blanket travel advisories.
“Blanket warnings about travel at this point are unjustified,” he said in an interview.
Thirty-one other organizations also signed on to that call, including the National Airlines Council of Canada.
“Other countries have moved to eliminate pre-departure testing requirements entirely, and the latest scientific evidence suggests now is the time for Canada to consider doing the same,” said interim president Suzanne Acton-Gervais in a statement Tuesday.
The government will consider easing restrictions further in coming weeks if the epidemiological situation continues to improve, hospitalizations continue to diminish, and Canadians continue to get their booster shots, Duclos said.