A big and costly burden has been lifted for fully vaccinated travellers: as of Friday, they no longer must take a COVID-19 test to enter Canada.
“It’s about time,” said Emil Kamel at Toronto’s Pearson airport on Friday, on his way to Egypt.
“Having to find a PCR test in a foreign country can get quite expensive and inconvenient,” he said. “We appreciate being able to come home and not worry about those things.”
However, the pandemic isn’t over, and there are other things travellers may have to worry about, such as test requirements to enter other countries, and the threat of another COVID-19 wave.
Here’s what to keep in mind when planning your vacation.
Some rules remain
Vaccinated travellers may not be entirely off the hook for the test requirement if they’re travelling with unvaccinated children. That’s because unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people over age four must still show proof of a negative antigen or molecular test to enter Canada.
Although they no longer have to worry about taking a pre-entry test, vaccinated travellers may be randomly selected to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival.
“The positive news for those that are randomly selected is that there is no need to quarantine while you’re awaiting your results,” said Darryl Dalton, who is chief of operations at Pearson airport with the Canada Border Services Agency.
The bad news is that those who test positive must comply with federal rules and isolate for 10 days — even if they’re in a province which has reduced the isolation period to five days for people infected with COVID-19.
Some countries still want a test
Vaccinated Canadians will still have to book — and pay for — a COVID-19 test if they’re visiting a country that requires one upon entry.
Popular destinations such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom have no COVID-19 entry restrictions for Canadians, but many other hotspots, such as Jamaica and the United States (when travelling by air) demand proof of a negative antigen or molecular test.
“I suggest that travellers do their due diligence and research the location that they’re going to, to see what the requirements are,” said Dalton.
Seema Shirali of Markham, Ont., has a daughter in New York City. She says she’s disappointed — and surprised — the U.S. hasn’t followed Canada’s lead and dropped the pre-arrival test requirement for international air passengers.
“Canada was always stringent,” with COVID-19 restrictions, she said. “[The U.S.] opened up way before we have and yet they have this test, which seems really weird to me.”
U.S. Airlines and other travel industry groups have pressured the Biden administration to drop the test requirement, but the government has given no indication it plans to nix the rule.
Another COVID-19 wave?
On the same day Canada dropped its test requirement for travellers, federal health officials said they anticipate an increase in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, driven by the infectious Omicron subvariant BA.2.
“Don’t be complacent in thinking this is over,” said Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, at a news conference on Friday. “There will likely be more bumps along the way.”
Quebec and Ontario are already entering a sixth wave as infections surge in both provinces. Case numbers are also climbing in Europe and China.
So what does this mean for people making travel plans?
Toronto emergency physician Dr Kashif Pirzada advises Canadians to sit tight.
“I don’t think now’s a good time to travel,” he said. “This is a time to sort of batten down the hatches, put up your shields and be careful.”
However, he said we should see another lull in cases soon.
“Once this wave passes, it’ll be fine again — until another variant comes.”
A rise in cases could also mean a return to stricter travel rules. When the government announced last month it was dropping the test requirement, it warned that nothing was set in stone.
“All measures are subject to review,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. “We will continue to adjust them as the epidemiological situation here in Canada and abroad evolve.”
Ottawa previously flip-flopped on the testing rule last fall when it dropped the requirement for those making short trips to the U.S., but reintroduced it less than three weeks later when Omicron hit.
People can get travel insurance to cover costs if they fall ill from COVID-19 while travelling. Most providers are also offering coverage if people test positive and must delay or cancel their trip, said Will McAleer, executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.
But he warns that it’s unlikely travellers can get coverage if they forfeit their trip because they’re concerned about rising COVID-19 cases.
“They won’t be able to cancel [and get reimbursed] just because they’re a little afraid that maybe there might be more cases at the destination than they had thought when they booked it,” he said.
“If you change your mind, you don’t want to go anymore, that’s not something that’s in a typical policy.”
However, said McAleer, if Canada were suddenly to reinstate its advisory against non-essential travel abroad, insured travellers would be able to cancel their trip and get reimbursed — if the advisory were still in place at their time of their scheduled trip.