New federal rule on COVID-19 tests for air passengers kicks in tonight

Starting tonight, all travellers returning to Canada by air from abroad must produce evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flights.

As of midnight, every traveller over the age of five must show a negative test result from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test administered in the 72 hours before their flight’s departure. Some temporary exemptions have been introduced for travellers from St. Pierre and Miquelon and Haiti.

The test must be conducted before boarding the plane, in the country of origin. Other types of tests — such as rapid antigen tests — will not be accepted.

The testing requirement is in addition to the existing mandatory 14-day quarantine period for returning travellers. The travel restrictions on most foreign nationals also remain in place.

For now, travellers will not be required to get a molecular PCR test from certain companies or laboratories, but Transport Minister Marc Garneau said today the government may eventually limit the range of tests it accepts.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau, left, and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press, Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

Garneau acknowledged that testing requirements will lead to “inconvenience” and “frustration” for some travellers but said it’s necessary to prevent further importation of the virus from other countries.

Garneau, Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne stressed that Canadians should shun travel abroad to avoid getting stuck overseas without timely access to a PCR test.

Hajdu said the government knows it may be difficult for some returning Canadian to get a test within that 72-hour window.

“This is exactly why we’re advising people to not travel internationally. It is difficult to acquire a PCR test in countries that you wouldn’t suspect. It’s very important people resist the urge to travel internationally unless absolutely essential to do so,” she said.

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