Air passengers entering Canada will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the country, the federal government announced today.

Travellers must receive a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within a 72-hour period prior to boarding a plane — a requirement Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said will be in place “quickly,” though he did not provide an exact date.

The measure does not replace the federal government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair warned.

“This is not an alternative to quarantine. It’s an additional layer,” Blair said during a public health briefing.

The federal government hasn’t yet explained in detail how the pre-boarding testing will be administered to incoming travellers.

“That information will be made available very shortly by (Transport Minister Marc Garneau), who is currently engaging with the airlines and officials in his department to bring those measures forward as quickly as possible,” Blair said.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says border officers are beefing up their presence in Canadian airports to reinforce public health messaging as the federal government moves to implement negative COVID-19 test requirements for incoming travellers. (Adiran Wyld/The Canadian Press) Lack of information ‘causing panic,’ Conservatives say

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner criticized the Liberal government over the timing of the announcement and said the lack of policy specifics will lead to anxiety and confusion for Canadians abroad.

“I’m glad to hear that the Trudeau Liberals are finally taking our advice and looking at implementing testing protocols for international travellers returning to Canada,” she said in a media statement.

“However, the lack of details around this announcement is causing panic among Canadians currently abroad. The government has had months to implement a system and today put forward a haphazard announcement that is a response to headlines rather than an actual thoughtful and transparent plan.”

Where can Canadians currently abroad get information on this new requirement? Will the federal government be providing a portal or will this responsibility also be downloaded onto already strapped airlines?

—@MichelleRempel

Speaking in French, LeBlanc suggested people now vacationing in places like Florida or the Caribbean should be trying to find somewhere to get tested before preparing for their return.

It’s not clear how pre-boarding testing will affect those participating in Alberta’s pilot project for international travellers, which allows people to leave quarantine if they receive a negative test after returning to Canada.

Blair said that the purpose of the new requirement is not to shorten the length of mandatory quarantines and it’s “important not to conflate the two issues.”

He said Ottawa is discussing implementing more testing protocols at land points of entry with a number of provincial health authorities, but added that effort involves “issues of some complexity” the government is still working through. 

Border agency boosts airport presence

The additional measure comes as Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips is under fire over news that he had travelled to the Caribbean island of St. Barts for a personal vacation earlier this month. Phillips is on his way back to Canada after Ontario Premier Doug Ford demanded his return.

Quebec Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand has also received criticism for visiting Barbados during the holidays, a trip Arcand now says he regrets.

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips had been vacationing out of the country with his wife since mid-December, his office said Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will also be beefing up its presence at airports across Canada to ensure travellers are adhering to public health guidelines, Blair said.

“Additional border officers will be present at various positions to reinforce compliance messaging,” the minister said, adding that teams already have been sent to customs and baggage areas and inspection lines to speak to travellers about their obligations — and the consequences of failing to follow the rules.

The federal government has advised against non-essential travel outside Canada since the start of the pandemic, though officials noted Wednesday that about two per cent of COVID-19 cases have been brought into the country from overseas.



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