Washington is tightening travel rules for all foreign nationals, including Canadians, and making things even more difficult for leisure travelers as governments around the world grapple with the advent of the Omicron variant.
According to the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), the US changes follow the new rules introduced by Canada on Tuesday, which have already caused panic among travelers. For Canadians traveling to the United States, the new rules announced by President Joe Biden on Thursday mean that individuals will need a different type of COVID-19 test and test timeframe than those for returning to Canada.
As early as Monday, the United States will require “all incoming international travelers” to have an antigen test performed within 24 hours of their departure. Previously, the test was required within 72 hours. Canada, meanwhile, requires individuals to take the more expensive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before entering the country, but allows a 72-hour window.
A senior government source said the Canadian government believes the new 24-hour testing rule will also apply to people entering the US at the land border. The Globe does not name the source as they were not allowed to disclose this information.
The new US travel rules follow a week of alternating relaxed and tightened border restrictions in Canada. Starting this week, Canadians and permanent residents returning within 72 hours of leaving the country will no longer need to be tested. But Ottawa announced this week that anyone entering Canada from a country other than the US will have to take a test upon arrival and isolate themselves until they get the result.
“The average traveler is incredibly confused,” said ACTA President Wendy Paradis. “The number one target for Canadians is the United States. The # 1 tourists in Canada are US citizens. So it would be really very helpful if the governments of Canada and the United States could, at a minimum, agree on which test to use. “
Nearly two years after the pandemic, Business Council of Canada President Goldy Hyder said the inconsistencies and changing rules were adding to public frustration.
“It would be desirable if there was consistency in the way things are applied on both sides of the border,” he said. “So whatever that is, do it right away.”
The price of antigen testing could go up significantly with the new 24-hour timeframe. Martin Firestone, a Toronto travel insurance broker, said the turnaround time is forcing some customers to go to private clinics, which charge $ 350 for the test, compared to $ 20-40 at some pharmacies.
Ottawa announced no changes to its rules in response to Washington’s announcement on Thursday. And on Parliament Hill, cabinet ministers defended Canada’s rules, saying it was based on advice from the country’s public health experts.
“We will make sure we try to align wherever we can,” said Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino. “But at the end of the day we will listen to advice from our health professionals.”
Both the Québécois bloc and the NDP called for greater clarity and coherence, and criticized the government for communicating the latest changes. For example, the government says their new testing and isolation rule is already in place upon arrival. But airports say they don’t have the information needed to implement them, and so do the government own travel website does not yet list the new rule.
“Canadians do not know what the rules are and when they apply,” said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in Question Time.
In response, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland described the travel requirements as “breakers to give us time to be careful”.
Cases of the Omicron variant have now been identified in five US states, but Transportation Secretary Omar Alghabra said Thursday that the government’s requirements for arrival testing and isolation need not be extended to those coming from the US. He said the government is working to ensure Canada has the necessary testing capacity in case circumstances change and is deciding to extend the requirement to these travelers.
The 24-hour test window was announced by Mr Biden in a series of new measures aimed at keeping the economy going and keeping schools open in the face of the unknowns caused by the Omicron variant.
Travelers must get tested regardless of their vaccination status or nationality, the White House said, adding that masking requirements will be extended through March.
The White House is also trying to convince more Americans to get their COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, accelerating research into vaccinating children under the age of five, expanding access to home tests, and donating 200 million more vaccine doses worldwide within the next 100 days.
It’s a “no-blows” plan and it’s both about bringing a broken country back together and staving off another deadly wave of infections, Biden said.
With reports from Robert Fife and The Canadian Press
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