Random Testing On Arrival In Canada Could Force Tourists To Quarantine
Although a majority of the Western World has dropped all of their entry requirements already, tourists visiting Canada still risk being sent to quarantine when randomly selected for testing on-arrival and given a positive Covid result – even if no longer infectious. Whether you’re vaccinated or recovered, Canada makes no distinction.
From the onset of the pandemic, the North American country has resorted to countless measures to curb the viral spread. Among the most controversial ones, unvaccinated Canadians were, for a period of time, unable to board flights in Canada, and most foreigners, Americans included, were routinely turned away at the border.
These stricter rules have been relaxed and the world has moved on, but Canada still hasn’t fully let its guard down and continues barring international travel:
Canada’s Strict Border Rules Keeps Punishing Tourists Regardless Of Vaccination Status
It’s September 2022, and tourists, Canadian expats and business travelers can enter Canada once more. The country is no longer completely sealed off from the rest of the world, as it had been throughout 2020, and with each passing month, cross-border connectivity with the United States gets stronger – be it more flights, or reinstated railway links.
On the downside, Ottawa lawmakers have shown a firm reluctance in easing Canada’s much criticized travel rules – rules many deem outdated and unjustified by science. Yes, non-Canadians can visit for non-essential purposes, but they must tick a number of boxes to be eligible for travel. Among those there is a requirement to be fully vaccinated.
On top of that, they must submit personal information and agree to being tested on arrival. The policy, briefly paused at the peak of the summer travel chaos, was quickly reinforced as soon as congestion eased. While not all are subject to testing, those who do get picked must comply, and must test at an off-site location, no longer located in the arrival hall.
Interestingly, once their testing is conducted, tourists are not required to isolate while waiting for their results. If positive, they will be contacted by authorities and expected to isolate for 10 full days from the date of issue, regardless of having been allowed to walk freely at first, and irrespective of holding a vaccine certificate or recent recovery proof.
Are Canada’s Travel Rules Even Consistent At This Point?
To further add to the confusion, the province of Ontario, of which Toronto is a part of, has recently ended a five-day quarantine requirement residents faced when testing positive for Covid. Evidently, this goes against the federal resolution and the ten-day isolation period still applying to some tourists landing in Ontario.
The apparent inconsistency has been noted by visitors: as reported by Global News Canada, a San Francisco-based traveler was recently selected for testing upon arrival at Toronto Pearson Airport, soon after the program’s resumption. The result was allegedly delayed for ‘several’ days, until she contacted the lab for further information.
She was then ‘shocked’ to find out it came back positive and she needed to isolate for 10 days from that date. The San Franciscan assumed it was a ‘typo’, considering she and her partner had recovered from the disease recently and had voluntarily isolated for twelve days ahead of traveling. This mounted up to nothing, as a quarantine order was still issued.
The woman, Mrs Denise Chenier, had received a booster dose and reportedly obtained negative rapid antigen tests at their final destination in Thunder Bay while waiting for the official results, suggesting the detailed PCR test picked up a former infection. Prior to that, she had already spent a number of days in Canada quarantine-free.
Mrs Chenier is not the only complying American having their vacation plans ruined by the testing policy: roughly 1 in 20 travelers are affected, with both vaccinated and unvaccinated U.S. citizens facing mandatory isolation when failing to obtain a negative PCR. For that reason, having persistent viral levels is still a concern, at least in Canada.
The Problem With False Positives
Nearly three years into the pandemic, now we know PCR tests may pick up both current and recent infections, even if the patient has already recovered. In some cases, the viral load remains high for weeks or months after the disease has subsided; this can lead to the so-called ‘false’ positives, and in Mrs Chenier’s case, or an arguably unnecessary 10-day quarantine.
Ottawa is aware of these problems, but continues defending PCR usage as the ‘gold standard’ for detecting the virus. Conversely, yet another infectious disease specialist, Colin Furness of the University of Toronto, has rebuked the Canadian Government’s decision, joining a growing list of experts calling for these hurdles to be removed.
‘You’re shooting at a dartboard with a blindfold on‘, argues Mr Furness, in light of the recent data showing fully vaccinated, or recovered individuals who are perfectly healthy and non-infectious may still be required to quarantine when issued false positives. He believes the ‘current plan’ is not at all effective in doing disease surveillance, nor transmission control.
Besides the obstacles facing the tourism sector, these random tests are partly to blame for Canadian airports’ tarnished reputation as some of the worst for delays in the world. With an average 5,000 people being marked for testing each day, bottlenecks at the border have become more common, as well as agitation and other incidents.
What Are The Rules For Entering Canada Right Now?
This is the criteria for being eligible for travel to Canada today:
- Non-Canadians must be fully vaccinated*
- They must have no Covid symptoms upon boarding
- All travelers must download the ArriveCAN app, where they must upload their personal information, including proof of vaccination
- Pre-departure tests are no longer required, but random on-arrival tests are taking place
- Masks are required on all Canada-bound flights, trains, and other cross-border service
*Recovered individuals may be eligible to enter when presenting proof of at least one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or at least two doses of another Covid vaccine accepted by Canada, alongside their recovery certificate issued within the last year