Cost of COVID-19 tests in N.L. causing concern for travellers and tourism operators

·4 min read
In Newfoundland and Labrador, travellers who need a COVID-19 PCR test have to pay for one from a private laboratory — and the price of that test changes depending on where you live in the province. (Mario Tama/Getty Images - image credit)
In Newfoundland and Labrador, travellers who need a COVID-19 PCR test have to pay for one from a private laboratory — and the price of that test changes depending on where you live in the province. (Mario Tama/Getty Images - image credit)
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

When Terri Kinsella heard that travellers from the United States will once again be allowed to enter Canada as of Aug. 9, she booked her flight home to Newfoundland and Labrador right away.

Originally from Corner Brook and now living in Evanston, Illinois, Kinsella missed her parents' 50th wedding anniversary in August 2020, and hasn't been able to travel home to visit friends and family since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"It's been very isolating," she said. "The U.S. was hit particularly hard and we were pretty much in lockdown for a year."

But before she leaves the United States — and when she returns — she'll have to fulfil a new, pandemic-era travel requirement: presenting a negative COVID-19 test.

Submitted by Terri Kinsella
Submitted by Terri Kinsella

In Newfoundland and Labrador, COVID-19 PCR tests are free for those who are presenting symptoms or have been in close-contact with a known case of COVID-19. If you require a PCR test for another reason — like international travel — you'll have to pay for one from a private laboratory.

While there are several swab collectors across the province, the only accredited private laboratory that can produce COVID-19 PCR test results is Avalon Laboratories, located in St John's.

In an interview with CBC News, Paul Antle, president and CEO of Avalon Laboratories, said that while the test costs $125 for clients who come to the laboratory in St. John's, that price can rise outside the city, due to transportation and collectors' fees.

"Those costs have to be recovered," Antle said.

Eddy Kennedy/CBC
Eddy Kennedy/CBC

For example, Main Street Medical Clinic has locations across the province and partners with Avalon Laboratories to provide COVID-19 PCR tests. Main Street Medical Clinic charges $195 for the test at each location, said clinic director Dr. Todd Young.

Kinsella understands why the testing requirement for travellers has been implemented, but she's irked by the cost of the two tests she'll have to get, which she said will be about the same price as her plane ticket.

She said she's also concerned about the time frame for her results. Travellers to the United States are required to present a test result from no more than 72 hours before entering the country.

Antle said Avalon Laboratories provides test results in 24 hours, regardless of where on the island the test is performed.

Kinsella said she plans to book her test before she comes home to Newfoundland and Labrador, and she hopes that the process will go smoothly — otherwise, she won't be able to return to the United States.

St-Pierre-Miquelon tourism season in doubt

Like Kinsella, when Mark Collins heard that the border between St-Pierre-Miquelon and Newfoundland and Labrador would once again be open to fully vaccinated travellers, he was excited to visit — and get a much-needed boost in business.

Collins, who operates businesses in Fortune and Marystown, said he has experienced a "significant" loss in revenue since the border closed because of the lack of travellers to and from the French archipelago.

He also has a personal attachment to the islands. Collins has friends in St-Pierre-Miquelon, and he visits at least once a year with his wife and two children. He thinks that this year, many potential tourists — including his own family — will be deterred by the cost of testing on top of the cost of accommodations, food, transportation and activities.

"The cost seems to be extremely high," Collins said. "I definitely don't see too many people making the trek out there because of it."

CBC
CBC

Steve Le Bars, owner and operator at Frenchi's Tours in St-Pierre-Miquelon, said that the travel restrictions are "the talk of the island."

He said that he was prepared to shut his business down if the tourism industry was halted for much longer, and was overjoyed when he found out that the border would be reopening. Now, he worries that he still won't get the customers he needs.

"To be honest, I think they're just going to do the Burin Peninsula and Labrador and all those areas around before they're going to be choosing to come here."

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