Sunday,  July 3, 2022  4:48 pm

End the vaccine mandate, says Roundtable; questions about “off-site” arrival testing remain

End the vaccine mandate, says Roundtable; questions about “off-site” arrival testing remain
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable says the pause in randomized arrival testing will help with congestion issues at airports, but it's still not enough to "alleviate unnecessary pressures" on the industry and passengers. (Shawn Goldberg/Shutterstock)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable is applauding two major announcements that were made on Friday (June 10): the removal of U.S. testing requirements for travellers flying to the United States and Canada’s temporary suspension of randomized arrival testing for vaccinated travellers.

“Today's announcements mark an important milestone for the North American travel and tourism industry as it attempts to rebuild following more than two years of restrictions and shutdowns,” said the Roundtable, a coalition of industry leaders, in a statement on Friday. 

The U.S. government’s move to lift pre-travel testing – a policy Canada ended on April 1 for vaccinated travellers – is “another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States,” stated Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, on Friday. 

Meanwhile, in Canada, the decision to pause mandatory random COVID-19 tests at airports for vaccinated travellers until the end of the month is expected to assist with congestion issues at security checkpoints and customs – at Toronto Pearson airport, in particular.

Still not enough 

Still, there is still “significant work” to do to "alleviate unnecessary pressures" on the travel industry and passenger experience, the Roundtable pointed out on Friday.

“This includes immediately lifting the outdated vaccine mandates for passengers and federally regulated aviation workers and removing the duplicative health checks at Canada's airports,’" the Roundtable said.

Despite the temporary removal of testing, there will remain congestion issues as all passengers' vaccination status will “continue to be determined at the border, with unvaccinated travellers still required to undergo a COVID-19 test upon arrival through June, the Roundtable said.

READ MORE: Ottawa to temporarily suspend random arrival testing at Canada's airports

“Canada's outdated rules are causing unacceptable delays at the country's major airports, keeping international visitors away and souring Canada's reputation on the world stage,” the group argued. “Domestically, Canada's travel rules are hurting small businesses, unfairly impacting families looking to enjoy the summer travel season and forcing the cancellation of conferences and events that help power local economies.”

“Canada's outdated rules are causing unacceptable delays at the country's major airports..." says the Roundtable. (Pax Global Media)

Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of Canada's Chamber of Commerce, said the Canadian government is “unfairly targeting travel and tourism,” calling the practice “a relic from the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Medical experts have been clear; Canada's current border policies are outdated and no longer helping keep COVID-19 out of Canada,” Beatty said.

In addition to ending vaccine mandates for travel, the Roundtable is also calling on Ottawa to remove the Public Health Agency of Canada's duplicate health checks and questions through ArriveCAN at checkpoints, remove manual selection processes for testing from CBSA and within airports, and establish clear service standards for security and customs processing of passengers travelling through airports.

READ MORE: A “chaotic conga line”: Travellers face delays as YYZ grapples with staffing shortage

“As demand for travel returns and other global economies re-open, Canada's border policies and resources must reflect the new reality,” the Roundtable said.

Testing set to return in July 

The suspension of randomized arrival testing at Canada's airports began Saturday (June 11) and the government plans to bring it back on July 1.

During this pause, only unvaccinated travellers will be required to take a test upon entry into Canada.

The move comes as Toronto Pearson airport faces ongoing operational and staffing problems as the demand for travel returns.

READ MORE: U.S. to end COVID-19 testing requirement for air travellers 

In recent weeks, travellers passing through Canada’s largest airport have faced longer-than-usual security lines, long wait times for retrieving luggage and prolonged holding on board arriving aircraft, according to reports.

Earlier in the week, The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which oversees Pearson’s operations, called on Ottawa to pause randomized arrival testing, noting that international passenger numbers are set to increase by 50 per cent “in a few days.”

“In anticipation of a new wave of business and family travellers we urge the government to act immediately,” the GTAA said.

A long security line seen at Toronto Pearson airport in May. (Twitter/@MatthewGreenNDP)

With Friday’s announcement to pause testing, the GTAA got its wish, it seems.

However, one wonders how effective a temporary suspension will be (why not just scrap airport testing entirely?) as the summer travel season kicks in and passenger traffic ramps up even more.

READ MORE: Air Canada cancels almost 10% of Toronto flights as YYZ faces staffing shortage, passenger surge

Marie-France Proulx, a spokesperson for Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, told CBC News on Friday that the government does, indeed, intend on bringing back randomized testing for arrivals.  

"It is important to note that [randomized testing] will be reinstated as this is the only way we have of detecting new variants coming into the country, given that provinces and territories are no longer doing any PCR testing," Proulx told CBC News.

It should be noted that as of July 1, all COVID-19 testing for air travel – including for unvaccinated travellers – will be conducted off-site, federal officials said Friday.  

This, presumably, means international travellers will no longer have to take a random COVID-19 test at the airport on arrival.

What does "off-site" testing mean?

But what does “off-site” testing really mean? 

It could mean that airports will disassemble the COVID-19 testing clinics that have been set up in the halls of Canada customs. 

Will arriving passengers be escorted, at random, to a testing tent in the airport’s parking lot starting July 1? 

Whatever the outcome, the program’s current pause is apparently giving the feds time to figure out a new approach as it moves testing away from airports altogether, implied Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault in an interview with CBC's Power & Politics. 

"It's going to make sure that the airports flow more quickly. The airports aren't designed to be mini health care centres and so this will help with staff, it'll help with congestion," Boissonault said. "So this is a good step in the right direction."

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