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Ottawa leaves most COVID-19 testing requirements in place for travellers, drops rule for Canadians abroad for fewer than 72 hours


The federal government is lifting the pre-departure COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who are abroad for fewer than 72 hours, but is keeping the testing rules in place for all other travellers – against the advice of its own expert panel.

On Friday, federal ministers announced a suite of changes to the rules governing travellers at Canada’s air and land borders.

The change to testing rules for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents, taking trips by land or air under 72-hours, will take effect on Nov. 30, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Friday.

In addition to the vaccines approved by Health Canada, the federal government will now also recognize the Sinopharm, Sinovac and COVAXIN vaccines when determining if a traveller is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The changes bring Canada’s list of vaccines in line with those recognized by the World Health Organization, the government said.

And, as of Jan. 15, Canada is also reducing the number of exemptions for travellers who are currently allowed to enter Canada without being fully vaccinated, Mr. Duclos said. The vaccine requirement will now also apply to people travelling to reunite with family, international students ages 18 and older, professional and amateur athletes, and most essential service providers (including truck drivers and emergency service workers).

In May, the government’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel said the government should do away with all testing requirements for fully-vaccinated travellers, except for surveillance monitoring by testing some fully vaccinated passengers upon arrival in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been slow to accept the advice and the changes announced on Friday do not yet bring the government in line with the advice from its experts.

The Official Opposition Conservatives, business groups, and American lawmakers have been pushing for the government to change its rules which require costly pre-departure testing for vaccinated travellers arriving in Canada. When the expected changes were first reported on Wednesday, the Conservatives said they made the rules more complex while remaining out of step with expert advice.

On Friday, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce applauded the end of the testing requirement for some fully vaccinated travellers but called the 72-hour cut-off arbitrary and noted that the rules are still “at odds” with the advice from its expert panel.

“In essence, the government is putting a one-way door on the border, which will have serious consequences for businesses in communities near the US border,” chamber president Perrin Beatty said in a statement. “Ottawa is making it easier for Canadians to cross-border shop while maintaining punitive restrictions that discourage fully-vaccinated Americans from vacationing or shopping in Canada.”

During his trip to Washington this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised U.S. lawmakers that Canada would have a three-stage approach to loosening COVID-19 testing requirements at the Canadian border.

Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat and co-chair of the House northern border caucus, said Mr. Trudeau told a group of Congressional legislators that Ottawa will first loosen the rules for Canadian citizens, then for Americans and finally for people from all other countries.

On Friday, Mr. Duclos said the government will reassess its testing rules for fully-vaccinated Americans but he provided no timeline for when that will happen.

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