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Pause random COVID testing for vaccinees at airports across Canada

Emilie Bergeron, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The federal government is announcing it will pause mandatory random testing for COVID-19 for vaccinated travelers upon arrival at airports across Canada.

The suspension will begin on Saturday and will stretch until the end of June.

“Unvaccinated travelers will always be tested on the spot”, specify Friday in a joint declaration the ministers of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, of Transport, Omar Alghabra, of Public Security, Marco Mendicino, and of Tourism, Randy Boissonnault.

After this temporary suspension, therefore from July 1, all tests – for vaccinated and unvaccinated – will be conducted outside airports.

Federal ministers say Friday’s announcement is part of their efforts to “eliminate bottlenecks that occur at pre-boarding security and pre-departure pre-clearance checkpoints, as well as in customs rooms. Lately, queues have mainly been seen at Pearson airport in Toronto.

Pressed with questions in scrums, earlier this week, both ministers Alghabra and Mendicino had spoken of an improvement and insisted that delays of more than 30 minutes are only experienced, according to them, by 3% passengers at Toronto Pearson Airport and Vancouver International Airport.

In its Friday statement, Ottawa reiterates that regular meetings are taking place to “find solutions” to the wait times between Transport Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Canada Border Services Agency (the CBSA) and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA).

The federal government, which has hired 865 new CATSA officers since April, promises to continue adding reinforcements.

Pressure from the Canadian tourism industry is strong for Ottawa to lift health restrictions at the borders. Last week, several speakers gathered in a press briefing said that the largest airports in the country project that the number of passengers will increase by 50% with the summer vacation period.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, made up of industry groups, attributes recent delays at Canadian airports to COVID-19-related surveillance measures imposed on passengers at customs.

Although public health measures were manageable at the height of the pandemic when far fewer people were travelling, the organization says this is not sustainable given the current demand for flights.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, which includes Canada’s airports, has all but pleaded with the government to lift random COVID-19 testing at airports by June 15, when the travel season is expected to really take off.

The group is still urging the government to scrap the testing requirement altogether and lift all remaining COVID-19 related restrictions – including vaccination requirements for passengers and staff.

“Canada’s outdated rules are causing unacceptable delays at major airports across the country, keeping international visitors away and tarnishing Canada’s reputation on the world stage,” the group said in a statement late Friday.

Earlier in the day, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the random testing acts as an “early warning system” for new virus variants entering Canada.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable has also called on the government to remove COVID-19 related questions from the ArriveCan app to speed up airport queues. Instead, the government has announced it will post additional Public Health Agency of Canada staff at airports to check that travelers have answered questions and offer help to those who need it. .

“We recognize that there is still work to be done, particularly for international arrivals at our larger airports, and we will continue to work with all levels of government and our partners to reduce delays in the transportation network,” conclude Minister Duclos and his colleagues.

On the United States side, the Biden administration has decided to permanently end one of the last mandatory health measures in place, i.e. the requirement to present a negative test for COVID-19 to board a plane bound for the United States.

The Associated Press reported, on the strength of a senior source in the Biden administration, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that the measure is no longer necessary.

This same source is quoted as having indicated that the CDC was going to do a reassessment every 90 days. The testing obligation could therefore be reinstated if new variants of COVID-19 considered to be of concern emerge.

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