Airlines and travelers denounce ‘confusion’ created by new COVID-19 testing rules

OTTAWA – Airlines and travelers say a series of questions remain about the federal government’s decision to require returning passengers to Canada to test negative for COVID-19 tests conducted at the foreign.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced last Thursday that overseas air travelers will be required to show proof of a negative molecular test – known as the PCR test, performed with swabs from the nose and throat – which was performed no more than 72 hours prior to departure, unless these tests are not available.

The transport ministry has yet to provide a list of foreign agencies whose tests are considered acceptable or how airline employees should determine whether a test certificate is valid, the director general of the National Council said. of Canadian Airlines, Mike McNaney.

“With less than a week to implement, we don’t have the interim orders in writing – it’s on the interim orders that you base your operations and obligations,” he said.

McNaney said the new rule, which imposes a 14-day quarantine on Canada regardless of the outcome of the test, will cause uncertainty and “frustration” for carriers and passengers.

“We are very concerned about the confusion that is going to occur and the lack of consistency in the implementation that is going to occur. And everything could have been avoided,” he said.

Air Transat vice-president Christophe Hennebelle said Ottawa had announced the requirement, which takes effect on Thursday, without any prior consultation.

“It kind of came out of nowhere… We had no notice,” he said.

“We feel that this is all a bit improvised ΓǪ and basically the feeling we have behind it is that the government wants to stop the trips but is not saying it.”

The goal of the tests – required for travelers aged five and over – is to reduce “importation” of the virus into Canada by adding another layer of protection, Transport Canada said in an email.

“The 14-day quarantine is the most effective measure we know of to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said department spokeswoman Sau Sau Liu.

Garneau said last week that the Jan. 7 start date was designed to give airlines enough time to comply with the new rules, and that the government will try to provide information on where testing is available in the ‘foreign.

His announcement comes as a devastated airline industry continues to bleed money following a collapse in demand caused by the pandemic.

It also comes amid growing criticism of the federal sick leave allowance which pays $ 500 a week for up to two weeks to Canadians quarantined after landing from overseas, including after the holidays.

Some federal and provincial politicians are among those who have chosen to travel beyond Canada’s borders while on vacation, despite public health recommendations against non-essential travel.

Starting at 12:01 am Thursday, passengers returning from countries where PCR testing is “not available” will be required to stay in a “designated quarantine facility” for two weeks upon arrival in Canada, rather than at home as the can passengers testing. , according to Transport Canada.

It is not clear whether “unavailable” means non-existent or simply difficult to access, as is how passengers can prove testing unavailability to a customer service agent at a check-in counter.

Airlines that fail to comply with the regulations – even if parts of the plan remain unclear to carriers – can face penalties of up to $ 25,000, the department said.

Another potential obstacle is the coordination of a test with take-off.

In recent months, major Canadian airlines have canceled the majority of their flights several weeks in advance due to a lack of ticket purchases. This means that passengers often have their flights rescheduled a few days later, making any tests performed even 48 hours before the originally scheduled departure invalid for the modified trip.

“We have to scramble. If the flight has changed, it gets worse, especially if we took the test,” said Perry Cohen, a 74-year-old Torontonian who spends about half a year in Florida.

“It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s just going to make people worse, and they have enough stress with COVID. They don’t need this on their heads,” he said from a retirement community in Deerfield Beach, Florida, approximately 40 miles north of Miami.

Airlines had hoped for a test framework that would reduce quarantine times, modeled on the pilots launched last year.

An ongoing program voluntarily tests Canadians upon arrival at Calgary Airport, with a mandatory self-quarantine for up to 48 hours. If the results of this COVID-19 test are negative, participants can leave, but must monitor their symptoms until a second swab six or seven days after landing.

Many countries rely on testing to reduce quarantines.

“If you arrive in Finland, which has very good results in controlling the pandemic, you get a quick test at the airport, then you take a second test a few days later, and if both tests are negative you can get out of quarantine. That makes sense, “Hennebelle said.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, less than 2% of all coronavirus cases reported in Canada come from travel abroad.

Nonetheless, fears over the increasingly infectious strains of the virus identified in the UK and South Africa have rekindled fears about the risks of international travel.

Travel insurance will not cover the cost of a COVID-19 test abroad, said Marty Firestone, president of Toronto-based Travel Secure Inc.

“Absolutely not, this is not an unexpected medical emergency,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 4, 2021.

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