Federal government looking at testing essential workers crossing land border: Blair

The federal government is looking into introducing COVID-19 testing for essential workers crossing Canada’s land border, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Sunday. 

“We’re working very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada and also with our provincial health authorities to [look] at implementing a system of regular testing to help protect those essential workers and truck drivers that are coming into the country and also to ensure that they’re not the source of any new infection,” Blair said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“That’s separate and apart from the measures that we’re implementing with respect to non-essential travel.”

The minister’s comments come one day before proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction test — also known as a PCR test — will be required for non-essential travellers entering Canada’s land border. 

The test must be obtained within 72 hours of arriving at the border, but essential workers — such as truckers, emergency service providers and those in cross-border communities — are exempt.

‘Compelling and compassionate’ cases considered

After passing through the land border, travellers will have to take another test upon arrival, as well as a third near the end of their 14-day quarantine.

That additional layer of testing comes into effect on Feb. 22, the same day air passengers landing in Canada will be required to quarantine in a hotel — on the traveller’s dime — for up to 72 hours while they wait for their PCR test results.

The cost of the stay is estimated to be about $2,000 but depends on where the traveller is isolating. Passengers will need to book a hotel in the city in which they first arrive: either Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or Montreal. 

Vaccinated Canadians will not be exempt from the requirement, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday the government needs to be “thoughtful and compassionate about people who are in extremely difficult situations and absolutely need to travel.”

Blair told CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton that there is a degree of discretion involved in deciding what constitutes essential travel.

“We also recognize that in all circumstances, there are compelling and compassionate cases that present, and we, in those cases, take the advice of the Public Health Agency of Canada and … try to deal with those compelling cases in an appropriate way,” he said. 

Appeal for medical exemption

One Vancouver woman has appealed to PHAC for an exemption to the hotel quarantine rule because she travels to the U.S. for cancer treatment.

“When I heard the news about that, I was distraught,” Kimberley Muise said in a separate interview with Barton.

Muise travels to Los Angeles every month to take part in an immunotherapy clinical trial to treat Stage 4 cervical cancer, and mandatory quarantine paid at the traveller’s expense would be a financial burden, she said.

Kimberley Muise, left, and Anna Nyarady, right, both travel regularly to the U.S. to take part in a clinical trial to treat cancer. They say they should be exempt from Ottawa’s quarantine rules. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Blair said Muise’s case had already been brought to his attention by her local member of Parliament and that he was in talks with PHAC and British Columbia’s health authority about her situation.

“We want to make sure that that woman can receive her treatment and put in measures that can protect her, protect her family and protect her community, but also deal with the exceptional circumstances that that woman is experiencing in an appropriate way” he said. 

“It’s comforting to know that my message has been received, but it took quite a lot of work to get there,” Muise said in response to Blair’s remarks. 

The public safety minister encouraged Canadians seeking clarity on their personal situation to reach out to his office, their local MP or PHAC if they have further questions. 

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