Mandatory COVID 19 testing begins at Toronto airport as travel rules make waves
A rule requiring international travellers landing at Ontario’s largest airport to take a COVID-19 test came into effect today amid growing concern over vaccine shortages and the importation of contagious COVID-19 variants into the country.
The Ontario government implemented the measure at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport as a stopgap while waiting for a similar federal program to get off the ground soon.
Premier Doug Ford has praised the prime minister for announcing a new federal testing plan but said Ontario will conduct its own traveller testing until Ottawa’s program kicks in.
Canada’s chief public health officer says new COVID-19 cases have been trending downward across the country in recent days but is warning it’s crucial to keep strong measures in place to maintain the tendency.
Quebec reported fewer than 1,000 daily COVID-19 infections today for the first time since early November, while Ontario reported 1,969 cases due to what Health Minister Christine Elliott describes as a data catch-up that includes some previously unreported cases.
But authorities say the reports of a contagious variant spreading in parts of Ontario as well as a slowdown in national vaccine deliveries justify the need for tough new travel restrictions, which will include a requirement that inbound travellers spend the first three days of their quarantine at a supervised hotel and take a COVID-19 test at their own expense.
The rules are causing “anxiety and frustration” for Canadians currently abroad, according to Evan Rachkovsky, a spokesman for the Canadian Snowbird Association.
He said the group is supportive of mandatory COVID-19 testing at points of entry but is opposed to the hotel quarantine measure, which is expected to cost travellers about $2,000 each.
“We believe it’s unreasonable, and we believe that this is going to be a financial hardship for many Canadians that are currently outside of the country,” he said, adding that more than 30,000 of the group’s approximately 110,000 members are currently outside of Canada.
He said there are other unanswered questions, including whether the rules will apply to land crossings and whether travellers’ pets will be accepted at the government-approved hotels.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week that Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat had agreed to suspend service to Mexico and the Caribbean as of Sunday.
The restriction will last until April 30, and Trudeau said the airlines will help arrange the return of customers currently outside the country.
As of this Thursday, all international passenger flights to Canada will have to land at one of four airports – Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary or Montreal.
Aviation experts have warned that the suspension of flights could have widespread repercussions for Canada’s beleaguered airline sector and force permanent closures for airports and travel agencies.
Meanwhile, Canada’s international trade minister told a parliamentary committee on Monday that she’s worried about new European export controls, even though European leaders have given assurances that new export controls on COVID-19 vaccines won’t stop shipments destined for Canada.
Mary Ng told MPs that Canada has been promised multiple times, including by the president of the European Commission and the trade and health commissioners, that Canada’s vaccine shipments will continue as expected.
However, she said those promises have not been put in writing and acknowledged the export controls are “concerning.”
All Canada’s doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are made in and shipped from Europe. Both companies have recently announced slowdowns in their vaccine delivery schedule due to production delays.
The Liberal government has repeatedly said both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna still intend to fulfil their promised delivery schedules and that current delays are temporary.
At least three other companies, Novavax, Astra-Zeneca and Johnson and Johnson, have launched the process of having Health Canada approve their vaccines.