COVID-19: Traveler confusion reigns amid advice on change

MONTREAL – Confusion is now a defining state for many Canadians considering traveling this month amid changing advice, COVID-19 variations, and layers of testing and isolation rules.

The prospect of flying abroad is “extremely confusing” as passengers remain uncertain as to whether they will be screened at airports upon return or forced into quarantine – across a range of measures at airports. other countries – said Marty Firestone, president of Toronto. The insurance company is based on Travel Secure.

“What do I need to get to that country? What do I need to come to this country? What do I need to return to my country?” he asks, interprets the customer’s questions.

Many are now rerouting trips or canceling altogether out of frustration, Firestone said.

“We’re just in trouble, there’s no simpler way to deal with it.”

COVID-19 testing is an area with a lot of uncertainty.

The federal government says all passengers entering Canada, except those arriving from the United States, need to be screened on arrival and quarantined until results are received. (People from 10 African countries face further restrictions after the initial discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa, despite its prevalence in more than 50 countries.)

But federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos on Friday acknowledged that Canada’s airports do not yet have the capacity to fully screen all non-US international arrivals. He did not say when that might actually begin, although randomized trials of returning foreign passengers are currently underway.

Firestone predicts: “There will be chaos and total chaos at the airports as people head back to Canada.

“Will they be herded into a hall with another 1,000 people? Left on the plane until the terminal is empty enough to take the next 1,000 people? Or will they be given a test to take home?” he asks.

Travelers must also find out the testing requirements in other countries. A negative result from a rapid antigen test or PCR performed the day or day before departure is required for entry into the United States.

But only the more expensive PCR test – the price tag can go up to $300 – will be accepted for return to Canada if residents want to avoid quarantine. Travelers have up to 72 hours before take-off or across the border to pick up their nose swabs, although many pharmacies don’t guarantee that time.

Then again, if the trip lasts less than 72 hours, the flyers are fully vaccinated and the travelers don’t need to be tested.

“Completely confused,” said John McKenna, CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada. “Even we called the Department of Transportation, and they have no answer.”

He said the federal government needs to announce clearer guidance as thousands of Canadians have begun to stop taking holiday trips.

For example, the federal government’s travel advisory website does not rank countries by their COVID-19 risk, unlike the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Duclos said on Friday that people planning to travel in the next few weeks should expect delays and hassles at the airport, noting that the situation could suddenly deteriorate.

“If they’re thinking of traveling, (Omicron) must be a serious alarm, a serious concern for them,” he told reporters. “It will be uncertain and risky.”

Ottawa hasn’t issued an advisory against all non-essential travel abroad it quietly lifted on October 21, but it does warn Canadians to “be extra cautious” as the Omicron variant spreads. wide.

“Everybody was very upset,” said McKenna.

“We’re not saying the government doesn’t take the issue seriously,” he added. “We are saying that the government needs to be better organized and better communicated.”

When it comes to airport checks, Duclos said that as of November 30, airports can perform 11,000 COVID-19 checks a day, and that number has grown to 17,000 a day.

The full capacity will be 23,000 daily tests, and Duclos did not say when that will happen.

He also announced that 35 million rapid tests will be shipped to provinces and territories this month, although questions still remain around the scope of their rollout.

Air Passenger Rights President Gabor Lukacs said he supported broad and potentially stringent measures, but said passengers were fined for refusing airport checks they were not aware of. may be requested.

“There’s a lot of confusion about the law, that’s for sure,” he said.

The questions came after Thursday’s audit-general report found Canada had not fully enforced border measures designed to prevent international travelers from importing COVID-19 cases into the country. .

It is too early to say whether Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, although preliminary data suggests the strain may not be as severe as feared. initial.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 11, 2021.


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