Stringent COVID-19 testing measures have dissuaded some Canadians from travelling abroad throughout the pandemic, but those measures have been scaled back.
Fully vaccinated travellers returning to Canada, including those arriving at YYC Calgary International Airport, will still need to take a COVID-19 test, but it no longer has to be a costly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
A rapid antigen test is now accepted as long as it has been completed within a day of arrival and was observed by a medical health professional.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Flight Centre spokesperson Allison Wallace of the change. “It is less expensive, it’s easier to find, and it’s quicker to get the results.”
The move away from a required PCR test is being welcomed by many in the industry, but some want to see Ottawa relax measures further.
“Ultimately, the travel industry would like to see the test requirement removed completely for fully vaccinated travellers,” said Wallace.
Those returning to the country may be selected for a random COVID-19 test, but those individuals will no longer have to quarantine while awaiting test results.
International travellers at the Calgary International Airport Monday morning welcomed the changes to testing requirements after almost two years of time-consuming and expensive PCR testing.
“I’ve had friends who have travelled to the U.S. and they needed a PCR test within 72 hours, and sometimes they’ll take the test and their flight comes and they don’t have the results,” said Michael Foisy, who was on his way to Oklahoma.
“I’m definitely more keen to travel now that it’s not going to cost me another $200 to get home into my own country,” said Larissa Little who was returning from Maui.
Others say the change isn’t as beneficial as advertised.
“The rapid test is easier to get but it’s harder to find an approved location to do it,” said Donald McCaffrey who returned from Hawaii on Monday and was randomly selected to take an additional PCR test upon arrival in Calgary.
“I had to test this morning in another country and then I have to get it again here and do this charade. It’s frustrating.”
TRAVEL INDUSTRY: CANADIAN RESTRICTIONS ‘OBSOLETE’
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable is lobbying Ottawa to throw away all remaining travel restrictions, including the rapid antigen test for pre-arriving travellers because it is outdated.
“Canada’s current COVID-19 restrictions are obsolete and out of step with countries worldwide,” said Richard Bartrem, Vice President of communications with WestJet.
“International travellers when they travel once again are going to look for the path of least resistance, and right now we are a path of resistance.”
The Travel Lady agency, operated and owned by Lesley Keyter says her industry has been damaged by constant restrictions that currently do not exist in other countries.
“The very core of our business is sending Canadians travelling, so when the travel advisories came up, our businesses stood still,” she said. “It has not been easy.”
Leanne Shaw is the general manager of Country Inn and Suites at the airport.
She says customers have been calling, but are turning away from trips to Calgary due to continued testing and the costs associated with it.
“What I am hearing from potential customers, there is just too many obstacles to travel to Canada,” she said.
“Travellers want safety and (cost) predictability.”
For one infectious disease expert at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, continued testing at the border is a waste of money.
“We have the tools to make sure people don’t get sick with vaccines and therapeutics, (so) why are we so fixated on the border for a point of entry for this virus,” said Dr. Zain Chagla.
“We really aren’t achieving much with what we’re throwing at the border, other than increasing the inconvenience on the traveller.”
Chagla says that Canadians are more at risk of catching COVID-19 in their communities than on an airplane or travelling in a vehicle.
“The likelihood of someone acquiring COVID in Canada is not from travel, but it is from our day to day lives,” said Chagla.
As of Monday, unvaccinated children under the age of 12 entering Canada with vaccinated guardians will no longer be barred from attending schools, daycares or other busy settings.
The federal government is also removing its advisory against non-essential travel, which had been in place for the majority of the pandemic.
Unvaccinated travellers will still need to be tested upon arrival to Canada, and they will need to complete a 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
With files from Shannon Paterson, CTV News Vancouver.