In one week, Canada will require anyone entering the country to have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight.
The new rules, which were first announced Wednesday, are meant to further limit the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Canada, which is continuing to see a surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths through the winter.
On Thursday, the federal government detailed exactly how the new requirements will work — including what will happen if a test can’t be acquired before travel.
Here’s what you need to know about the rules, which take effect on Jan. 7.
What exactly do I need before travelling to Canada?
Flyers aged five and up will need to take a COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (or PCR) test within 72 hours before their flight’s scheduled departure.
That test result must come back negative, and written or electronic proof of the negative result must be shown to the airline prior to boarding the flight to Canada.
“This timing recognizes that it may take a few days for passengers to receive their results following a PCR test,” the government said in a statement.
The test must be provided by a lab accredited by “an external organization” like a local government or professional lab in the country where the traveller is flying out of.
If proof of a negative PCR test is not provided to the airline at the time of boarding, travellers will be denied entry to the flight unless exempt.
What if the country I’m in doesn’t provide PCR tests?
Anyone travelling from a country where PCR testing is not available will be required to report to a designated federal quarantine facility maintained by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Travellers will have to stay in that site for the entire 14-day self-quarantine period mandated by existing travel measures.
Anyone planning to travel outside of Canada once the new rules are in place are being urged to check if the country they’re travelling to has PCR testing available before booking a trip.
Who pays for the test?
Travellers can cover the cost of a PCR test through their travel insurance provider, so long as they include COVID-19-related medical expenses in their coverage.
The government is recommending all travellers get travel insurance immediately and make sure their plan covers medical expenses related to the pandemic, including testing and cancellations or rebookings in case of testing delays.
Otherwise, travellers will be responsible for paying for testing themselves. Consular services will also not cover expenses in case travellers cannot return to Canada due to a missing or delayed test.
The government is also advising that the Emergency Loan Program will not apply to most Canadians currently abroad to cover the cost of testing or flight cancellations, as those travellers “had plenty of time and opportunity to return to Canada since the pandemic reached a critical point” this past spring.
The loan program can not be used to cover costs related to isolation or self-quarantine after arriving back in Canada either, the government says.
Can proof of vaccination be used for a substitute for a negative test?
Currently, proof that a traveller has been vaccinated against the coronavirus cannot replace proof of a negative test before boarding a flight to Canada.
“While a vaccine protects an individual from illness, further evidence is required to understand if a vaccinated person can still (spread the) virus,” the government said.
Who’s exempt from the new rules?
Besides children under five years of age, travellers exempt from providing proof of a negative test include emergency service providers, airline crew members and people travelling on refueling flights.
What happens after I board my flight?
Current health measures like temperature checks and mandatory masks on flights must still be followed despite proof of a negative test.
Once back in Canada, travellers will still need to provide a detailed 14-day self-quarantine plan to Canada Border Service Agency officers stationed at airports across the country.
Travellers must also enter their quarantine plans into the ArriveCAN app and provide updates as needed.
Anyone whose quarantine plans are ruled to be insufficient will be mandated to quarantine in a Public Health Agency of Canada facility.
The government is still advising all Canadians to avoid any non-essential travel amid the pandemic, which has infected roughly 580,000 people and killed more than 15,600 across the country as of Dec. 31.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, said Thursday she is deeply concerned Canadians are still traveling for non-essential reasons, ignoring advice not to do so.
“I am asking Canadians to reassess any travel plans,” she said.
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