The Canadian government says it will pause all mandatory random COVID-19 tests at Canada's airports for vaccinated travellers until the end of the month, starting this Saturday (June 11).
COVID-19 testing at airports will be suspended between Saturday, June 11 and Thursday, June 30, 2022, officials said Friday (June 10).
Unvaccinated travellers will still be tested at airports and as of July 1, all COVID-19 testing for air travel – including for unvaccinated travellers – will be conducted off-site.
“The Government of Canada recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers. We continue to work with airports, airlines, baggage handlers, and other partners to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season,” said Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra, Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, and Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault in a joint statement.
“Our efforts are having a positive impact. Current traveller wait times at major Canadian airports are decreasing.”
"This is a positive step"
The National Airlines Council of Canada took to Twitter on Friday to applaud the news.
"Canada's airlines welcome Minister @OmarAlghabra's decision to suspend and move off-site the mandatory random testing at airports," the council wrote. "This is a positive step, rooted in science and evidence, that will improve conditions at Canada's airports and reduce complexity for travellers."
Canada is one of the few Western countries that still has an arrival testing program at this stage of the pandemic.
Ottawa previously announced that public health measures would remain in place until the end of June, but has been facing pressure to loosen restrictions at airports – at Toronto Pearson, in particular – as facilities grapple with challenges brought on by staffing shortages and the rebound in demand for travel.
Some travel industry advocates have blamed federal COVID-19 surveillance measures for slowing things down at Canadian airports.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), today, got its wish – just yesterday, the authority that oversees Toronto Pearson called on the federal government to pause on-arrival randomized testing because 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 yesterday.
The request was made as the Government of Canada faces intense pressure to help fix operational issues that have been reported at Pearson.
The issue has been boiling over for weeks as reports of air passengers being forced to stand in longer-than-usual security lines, not receiving their luggage or being held on arriving aircraft for unreasonable periods of time continue to surface.
Federal officials say extra staff from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) will be deployed at airports to verify that travellers have completed questions through the ArriveCan app (which remains a requirement for entry) or assist those who need it.
“Travellers are reminded that the use of ArriveCAN before coming to the airport helps remove unnecessary delays,” federal officials said Friday.
“We recognize that there is still work to be done, particularly for international arrivals at our largest airports, and we will continue to work with all orders of governments and partners to reduce the delays in the travel system.”
The government has previously defended arrival testing as a way to track how many COVID-19 cases are entering Canada.
They've also said the program could be used to detect new variants of concern.
Canada's update comes as the United States loosens its own COVID-19 rules for air travel.
The U.S., which has never had an on-arrival testing program, announced Friday that it will drop its pre-entry testing requirement for air travel – a rule that Canada dropped on April 1.
As of Sunday (June 12), U.S.-bound passengers won't have to get a negative test before boarding a flight.