Three travel agents who have been persistent critics of the PCR testing Canadians travelling out of the country have to undergo before returning home are welcoming Ottawa’s Tuesday announcement that it will be enabling fully vaccinated Canadians to opt for less costly and quicker antigen testing as of Feb. 28.
Mandatory PCR tests that must be undertaken no more than 72 hours before re-entering Canada have long been a source of criticism from those in the travel industry, who’ve argued that they do little to safeguard people from coronavirus and the cost of the tests — which in some destinations tops US$150 per person — is discouraging many from travelling out of the country. Those critics have recently been joined by a number of medical professionals who’ve questioned those PCR tests’ value in containing coronavirus and suggested the money spent administering them would be better spent elsewhere.
The antigen tests that Ottawa says it will be accepting must be provided by an authorized clinic and random testing of returning travellers will continue.
Ottawa also announced it will be lifting its advisory against non-essential travel outside Canada.
Jamie Milton of Uniglobe Carefree Travel in Saskatoon applauded the federal government’s latest decision, while adding Ottawa could have gone farther.
“We were sincerely hoping that Canada would follow the lead of some of our European counterparts and remove the need for all testing for fully vaccinated travellers,” Milton said. “However, the announcements were a step in the right direction. The lowering of the travel advisory will give clients peace of mind and allow for better insurance coverage. We were very happy to see the arrival testing and quarantine was removed and we know the antigen test will be more accessible and affordable for our clients. We were also happy to see that children under 12 no longer need to isolate from school or daycare if they are unvaccinated. This will make travel easier for families with younger children.”
Uniglobe CarefreeTravel remains concerned that “if our clients test positive with an antigen test in destination, they then need to secure a PCR test and from that point wait 10 days before returning home,” Milton added.
“Was today’s announcement perfect? No, but judging by how busy we have been this week, it’s the incentive that travellers needed to start planning and we are thrilled to see our phones ringing and clients in the office.”
Lynda Westlake of Vision Travel in Port Hope, Ont., predicted Tuesday’s announcement will spur bookings.
“This is fantastic news that finally as Canadians, we won’t have to take the expensive testing!” she said. “A lot of people delayed planning vacations because of the extra expense. It was a long time coming, but very welcome. Just hope there isn’t another variant that comes along and puts us back to square one with cancellations. It is too bad, the mainstream media or health departments don’t report the actual ‘cases’ that are caused by travel. It would be most beneficial if the government lifted the mandatory vaccine to travel, as there are a lot of people who want to travel but cannot due to mandates. If the unvaccinated want to travel, I think they should be able to with negative testing.”
Ethel Hansen Davey of Uniglobe Enterprise Travel in Toronto in turn said Ottawa’s latest move will “absolutely” lead to an increase in business for her agency.
TIAC president Beth Potter said her association was encouraged that Ottawa will no longer be insisting on PCR tests, saying antigen testing is “far less onerous and cumbersome.”
But Potter — among other things citing high vaccination rates in this country — questioned whether antigen testing is needed for fully vaccinated travellers and added “it’s time to reopen Canada” to all fully vaccinated travellers.
TIAC has long been warning that the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating to those with a financial stake in tourism.
WestJet said it’s continuing to call “for the removal of all measures impacting fully-vaccinated air travellers.
“The removal of travel barriers for fully-vaccinated travellers and families is a positive step forward for our industry; we have been advocating tirelessly for these changes on behalf of our guests and our communities,” said Angela Avery, WestJet executive vice-president, external affairs. “As a fully-vaccinated industry, we have worked with public health authorities and all governments to curb COVID-19 and today’s announcement validates that travel has never been a significant vector of transmission.”
WestJet said it continues to advocate for the return to surveillance arrivals testing only and for the federal government to outline a recovery roadmap for the travel and tourism industry, based on science and reflective of the current realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As measures transition and Canada’s pandemic situation continues to improve, we are optimistic that the remaining policies will be reassessed and removed for fully-vaccinated travellers in the weeks ahead as outlined today by the ministers,” added Avery.