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The federal government announced Wednesday that Canada will implement a requirement for a negative PCR COVID-19 test three days before arriving in the country.
Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, said this requirement will be “quickly implemented” in Canada.
Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, identified that the “greatest concern” is international travellers arriving at Canada’s airports. He said the federal government is working with provincial authorities on options to introduce testing regimes at land border crossings as well.
“This is not an alternative to quarantine, it’s an additional level of protection,” Blair said.
Additional details are expected to be available by the Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, in the near future.
Blair also identified that after some provincial jurisdictions have called on the federal government to use to pre-travel testing to reduce the 14-day quarantine for travellers, now is not the time.
“I believe at the current time we should only be considering testing as an additional layer of defence against the illness coming into the country,” Blair said.
He added that the quarantine rule has “proven to be” Canada’s “most effective line of defence for keeping the illness out of Canada.”
That being said, the federal government will also begin a testing pilot program at Toronto Pearson Airport.
“The 14-day quarantine, in fact, has allowed us to really capture cases of COVID-19 without allowing further...spread into communities,” Minister of Health Patty Hajdu said. “But there is a value in understanding the role of testing, both from a pre-departure perspective and also from an arrival perspective.”
“The work that we’ll do on these additional testing pilots, including the pre-departure testing, will build on that national and international body of evidence that will help us determine how best to continue to do this.”
Blair also stressed that the federal government “strongly” advises Canadians against travel unless it is “absolutely necessary.”
“If you must travel, understand that upon your return to Canada you must follow guidelines and quarantine for 14 days,” Blair said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the law and if you do not follow the requirement it can result in significant consequences.”
Failure to comply with the quarantine rule carries penalties of up to six months in jail or up to $750,000 in fines.
Blair said travel has decreased by about 90 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic while about two per cent of confirmed cases in Canada originated directly from travel.
“Two per cent is very low but it’s still unacceptable,” the public safety and emergency preparedness minister said.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said it is “deeply concerning” that Canadians are still travelling for non-essential purposes.
“Now is not the time to travel,” Dr. Njoo said. “Canada remains on a trajectory for resurgence over the next two months.”
“Until vaccines are more widely available to all Canadians, we must continue to follow our proven public health measures to control COVID-19.”