Ottawa: The eye-watering sensation of a swab up the nose will no longer be a cost of admission to Canada for vaccinated travellers as of Friday.
The government announced it would do away with the requirement for COVID-19 tests for people protected against the virus two week ago.
The change is a departure from Canada’s policy since the early days of the pandemic and has sparked a surge in travel bookings to and from Canada.
Travellers could still be randomly tested when they arrive in Canada, but dropping the requirement for a test prior to arrival in Canada is expected to have a big effect on people’s decision to travel.
“We know that we will see a surge in bookings,’’ said Beth Potter, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, though she said the volume is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Richard Vanderlubbe, president of TripCentral.ca, says demand for travel has already increased, and costs are rising as a result.
“This is directly as a result of the travel advisory being lifted, testing scrapped April 1, and increasing consumer confidence,’’ he said.
Still, Canada has a ways to go to let the world know it is ready to welcome visitors, Potter said.
“Because our borders were closed for so long, longer than other countries in the in the G7 In particular, we kind of have a branding that says Canada is closed for business,’’ she said.
Many voices, including the federal Conservatives, have called on officials to do away with vaccine requirements for travel, or at least share more information about when the government plans to take that next step.
“We need to be sending the signal that travel is safe now, and lifting vaccine mandates. That would, I think, really help to rebuild confidence in travel again,’’ Potter said.
Even so, it’s also possible the government could reinstate border restrictions in response to worsening COVID-19 conditions in Canada and abroad.
When Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the latest change, he said it was possible because of declining test positivity rates at the border and improved vaccination rates among Canadians.
However, epidemiologists have begun to warn of a new wave of the virus, driven by a more contagious subvariant of Omicron called BA. 2, or stealth Omicron.
Most provinces don’t provide widespread molecular tests so it’s impossible to know how many people have COVID-19 in Canada. Between March 13 and 14 about 13.8 per cent of COVID-19 tests were positive across the country, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s data shows.
As of March 31, the positivity rate was about 16 per cent.
The virus is unpredictable and the government needs to be nimble, said Sandy White. His family owns several small hotels in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. He also co-founded Rapid Test and Trace Canada, which launched a service to verify rapid test results about a month and a half ago.
He recently hired 100 nurses, but two weeks later got word verified tests would no-longer be required for people to come to Canada.
He said it’s hard to say which direction the public health measures for travel will go next, given the past ebb and flow of test requirements at the Canada-U.S. border.
“We’ve seen government reverse course already,’’ he said.
“In some cases, it’s the right decision. Just because things are strict doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. Even though we all hate the restrictions, in some cases they are the right thing to do.’’
If the test requirements return, it would have a major dampening effect on the tourism industry, Potter said. She wants the federal government to work with the industry and public health experts to make a plan to protect against future waves of the pandemic without shutting down tourism again.
While no test will be required after April 1 for people who are considered fully vaccinated, Health Canada still requires that anyone arriving from outside the country wear a mask in public for two weeks.
The rules for unvaccinated Canadians and other travellers who are exempt from the vaccine requirement remain unchanged, and those people will still need to provide a negative test, or evidence enough time has passed after an infection, to enter the country.
Unvaccinated travellers will also be tested on arrival and again eight days later, and will be required to quarantine for 14
By Laura Osman
The Canadian Press