The Government of Canada says it has fixed a technical glitch to its ArriveCAN app that was instructing some users to quarantine unnecessarily.
The issue was resolved last week on Wednesday (July 20), according to reports, but that hasn’t stopped experts and travellers from intensifying their calls on Ottawa to scrap the controversial app altogether.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, the union representing border services agents estimates some 30 per cent of travellers crossing the border aren’t completing the app, which is creating longer processing times amid an already-hectic travel season.
“We're so short-staffed and spending so much time dealing with this app that we really don't have time to do our actual jobs anymore," Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, told CP in an interview.
Medical experts are also adding their voice to the debate.
"I really just have no idea why we would continue to be using it as we are right now. It seems to me a lot of effort, work and to be honest inconvenience for many people for very little benefit," Dr. Andrew Morris, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, told CP.
A last line of defence?
But the federal government thinks otherwise.
The mandatory smartphone and desktop-based application that requires travellers to report their trips, vaccination status and health conditions before entering Canada gives the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) key information about people who test positive for COVID through testing at airports and land borders, government sources have said.
PHAC uses the data collected from ArriveCAN to identify the vaccination status and destinations of people who test positive as a part of Ottawa’s random testing program at the border (which recently resumed offsite of airports for air travellers).
As suggested in a report from CTV earlier this month, Ottawa views ArriveCAN as a last line of COVID-19 defence because provinces are no longer conducting tests on a local level.
ArriveCAN continues to face widespread criticism as border mayors, small businesses and travel industry advocates argue that the app, first introduced in April of 2020, should be turfed altogether.
Some say ArriveCAN is hurting cross-border tourism communities, while others say it’s difficult to use (there are seniors, for example, who may not know what an app is).
And as COVID-19 vaccination rates in Canada rank high and as Ottawa lifts more travel restrictions, the consequences for failing to fill out the app’s myriad of questions seem unreasonably harsh.
The government says that if you attempt to enter Canada without completing ArriveCAN, you could be forced into quarantine for 14 days or fined $5,000.
That's even if you're fully vaccinated.
Likely to stick around
Federal officials have already indicated that ArriveCAN may become a permanent feature.
“ArriveCAN was originally created for the purposes of COVID-19, but it has technological capacity beyond that to really shrink the amount of time that is required when you're getting screened at the border,” Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino told reporters on June 28.
That same month, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) suggested that the app will likely stay active for a while.
“What we’re hearing is that the government loves ArriveCAN and that they may not get rid of it whatsoever,” said Avery Campbell, ACTA’s director of advocacy and industry relations, at a virtual town hall event on June 20.
“There will be a transition from ArriveCAN being a COVID-19 product to a product that streamlines border entry and makes the airport experience more efficient."
“That’s what we’re advocating for – take a tool the government loves that we don’t think they’re going to get rid of, but make it an efficient tool to make the travel experience better.”
Faster & easier travel
The Government of Canada, meanwhile, has announced changes to ArriveCAN to make travel “faster and easier.”
Since June 28, travellers arriving at Toronto Pearson or Vancouver Airports have been able to use an optional Advance CBSA Declaration feature in ArriveCAN to submit their customs and immigration declaration in advance of arrival.
This change is speeding up wait times at airports, the government says.
Early usage data shows that it is 30 per cent faster at the kiosk when travellers use ArriveCAN to declare in advance instead of paper – “shaving approximately 40 seconds off a two-minute transaction,” federal officials reported in an update earlier this month.