3 COVID-19 tests required for travellers using Calgary airport program

·3 min read

The combination of new federal travel rules and a Calgary airport testing program means people taking advantage of that pilot project will now need three COVID-19 tests to arrive in Canada and exit quarantine early.

Under the new federal rules, as of 10 p.m. Wednesday night (12 midnight in Eastern Time), anyone older than five entering Canada will be required to show proof of a negative test — taken within 72 hours before the flight — before being allowed to board the plane.

This new rule operates independently but will have implications for air travellers participating in pilot program that allows eligible international travellers to take a COVID-19 test at one of two border crossings in Alberta — the Calgary International Airport and the Coutts land border crossing.

If travellers who opt for the pilot project test negative, they can leave quarantine as long as they remain in Alberta for the first 14 days and get a followup test a week later.

The pilot project is a partnership between Alberta and the federal government.

The Prime Minister's Office confirmed to CBC News that the federal rules won't alter or cancel the pilot program, but anyone wishing to take advantage of it will now require three COVID-19 tests to comply with the mandatory federal rules and the voluntary airport project — one before departure, one at the airport and one a week later.

If travellers opt to skip the pilot program, they are required to take only the one mandatory test before arrival in Canada but must complete the full 14-day quarantine legally required.

New arrivals from the U.K. and South Africa are not permitted to use the airport testing, due to COVID-19 conditions in those countries.

"Alberta has had good success with the border pilot so far. The federal rules about pre-departure testing do not replace the need to quarantine on arrival or undergo testing if an individual wishes to participate in the border pilot program," Tom McMillan, assistant director of communications for Alberta Health. "Participants are still required to undergo testing upon landing and receive a negative test, and then another one during day 6/7."

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Calgary's border testing programs at the airport and the Coutts land crossing are "generating really helpful evidence" to shape testing and quarantine protocols in Canada.

As of mid-December, the province said more than 18,000 travellers had used the airport testing, with a 1.48 per cent positivity rate on the first test.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says there will be an increased presence of border officers at Canada's four major international airports, including Calgary, to help communicate quarantine requirements and consult with travellers on their isolation plans.

His colleague, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, acknowledged the new federal testing requirements for travel will be inconvenient.

"The decision to implement the pre-boarding negative testing measures was not made lightly," he said. "We strongly, strongly, strongly recommend to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada."