Canada Reimposes COVID-19 Testing For Arriving Passengers

Credit: DANIEL SLIM / AFP / Getty Images

The Canadian government reinstated random COVID-19 testing for entering passengers at four major airports on July 19, leading to concern that the measure could put added strain on the country’s stretched airline sector and dampen demand for international travel to Canada.

Canada still requires passengers to be fully vaccinated to enter the country, but last month it lifted all testing requirements for arriving vaccinated passengers. Now random testing has been mandated again for passengers arriving at Calgary (YYC), Montreal (YUL), Toronto Pearson (YYZ) and Vancouver (YVR) airports.

However, the testing has been moved off airport, with travelers selected for testing required instead to be tested at a government-approved site–such as a pharmacy–by the day after their arrival. If a passenger tests positive, he or she will be required to quarantine for 10 days. Antigen home tests are not allowed.

Passengers flying to Canada must download the ArriveCAN app 72 hours before departure. Once a passenger clears customs, he or she will get a message sent to the app within 15 minutes letting them know they have been randomly selected for testing. The app will help passengers find a testing site and book an appointment,

For passengers connecting at the four airports to fly to another domestic airport, testing can be done at the final destination, according to the Canadian government.

“Testing was and remains an important part of our surveillance program to track the importation of COVID-19 virus into Canada and identify new variants of concern,” the government said in a statement, adding: “Moving testing outside of airports will support testing for travelers arriving by air while still being able to monitor and quickly respond to new variants of concern, or changes to the epidemiological situation.”

The Canadian government will cover the cost of passengers' tests.

"As demand for travel increases across the world, [reinstating testing] marks an important step in our progress to streamline testing processes outside our airports while preventing the further spread of COVID-19,” Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said. “The government of Canada will continue to protect travelers and employees and ensure our transportation system is safe, reliable and resilient for the long term."

The government said testing is needed not just to identify individual passengers who may have COVID-19, but to provide data “used to understand the current level and trends of importation of COVID-19 into Canada.”

As with airlines in the US and Europe, Canada’s carriers continue to face operational issues as demand returns. Air Canada has apologized for “service shortfalls” and cut capacity, including temporarily suspending transborder routes YUL-Pittsburgh (PIT) and YUL-Baltimore (BWI).

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, which represents airlines, airports and hotels, said the reimposing of random testing for vaccinated, arriving passengers–including a potential 10-day quarantine–is “a step backward that unfairly targets Canada’s tourism sector and negatively impacts Canadian and international travelers.”

The organization said “mandatory testing should be replaced by more effective ways to assess community spread, such as community wastewater testing for tracking future variants. The reimposition of these measures is an unnecessary and unhelpful step backward that continues to put Canada out of alignment with its international partners and singles out air travel as the only consumer activity in the country with stringent health measures.”

Aaron Karp

Aaron Karp is a Contributing Editor to the Aviation Week Network.