What it means if you're randomly selected at the airport for a COVID-19 test

·3 min read

OTTAWA — You've just returned from a fabulous trip abroad. You make it through Canadian customs, ready to get home and settle back into normal life, or at least the new normal you've established since the pandemic.

Unvaccinated people arriving in Canada need to take a test but your shots are up to date, you're in the clear! Then you get a ping from your inbox: you've been selected for a random, off-site COVID-19 test.

Here's what it means, and what you have to do now:

If you land in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or Calgary you might have the slight misfortune of being randomly picked for a mandatory test.

You should know sooner rather than later, as the notification email is supposed to land in your inbox within 15 minutes of completing your customs declaration. That email will have some info about where you can get a test.

If you have a connecting flight or somewhere to be, don't panic. You can continue your journey, but the test must be completed by the end of the next calendar day after arriving in Canada.

Sadly, you can't use that rapid test in your cupboard at home but you've got options, and they're all free. Labs provide home-swab kits to go, or you can get a test in person. Some labs might refer you to a pharmacy in your area.

There's a list of approved locations on the government's website. Make sure when you register for your test that you use the same email address you use when you sign into the ArriveCan app, since that's how the government will get your results.

You don't need to quarantine while you wait for results, which should come within four days, but if you test positive you'll need to isolate.

For how long, you ask? Regardless of the rules in your province, you're supposed to stay home for 10 days and report your result to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

If you need to leave the country before your quarantine period is up then you need permission from a quarantine officer who will give you a set of rules to follow.

If the test was inconclusive — who knows, the swab didn't travel far enough up your nostril? — bad luck, you'll have to take another.

If you test negative but then get sniffles, sore throat or some other COVID-19 symptom then you'll need to do a 10-day isolation as well.

If you're negative and feeling well then welcome home, hope that vacation glow lasts.

You could also be selected for a random test when you come into Canada from the United States across the land border. But in that case the agents should be able to give you all the instructions you need.

Now, what happens if you don't seek out a swab like you've been told to? The public health agency will be in touch. After five days you're likely to get a phone call.If you still don't have a test booked you could face a fine.

You might be docked as much as $5,000 plus surcharges — money that could go toward your next trip, just saying.

And disobeying any instruction you get upon entering the country is an offence under the Quarantine Act, and could land you in jail for up to six months with a much heftier $750,000 fine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2022.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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