Travellers need to plan for COVID tests, heed other requirements

·3 min read

Locals contemplating international travel should be aware they’ll need to provide paper or electronic proof of a negative PCR test before flying home.

The requirement came into effect Jan. 7, though confusion over the incoming rule led to a “scramble” in early January, according to a local travel agent.

“People need to realize if they test positive within those three days before they fly home, they will be subject to quarantine in destination,” said Brandie Skaksen, Valhalla Vacations owner.

“There has been some travel, but sparse,” Skaksen said.

She said she’s had only about a half-dozen clients travel in recent months, mainly for medical, wellness or work reasons. She said the PCR test requirement hasn’t affected this.

The federal government’s requirement of a PCR test beginning Jan. 7 was announced Dec. 31, creating “a little scramble because of the short notice,” she said.

As well, there was confusion about the requirement, because extensions of the Jan. 7 deadline were granted, Skaksen said.

“There was an extension in countries unable to provide PCR tests, and they were still allowed into (Canada), but some people re-scheduled their return thinking they could not return without the test,” she said.

Travellers in Jamaica unable to get the test have been granted another extension, as they can return home until Jan. 18 without a test, if they’re tested upon arrival, she said.

Travel agents worked to get their clients tested, Skaksen said.

“Testing is readily available in high-tourist areas, but there have been instances where people have not been able to get PCR testing,” she said.

Skaksen said she hasn’t had any clients experience difficulties with the PCR test requirements; she is pre-booking the tests for her clients prior to departure.

Many hotels in high-tourist areas provide testing by certified hospital personnel with same-day results or results the next day, Skaksen said.

Pharmacies and clinics in these areas also provide the tests, she said. Prices range from $96 to $370.

Examples of high-tourist areas easily accessible to Albertans are Cancún and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, she said.

Travellers to Canada from the United Kingdom and South Africa, where coronavirus variants have emerged, must quarantine upon return even if they tested negative, according to the Alberta government.

The Canadian-United States border remains closed for non-essential vehicular traffic.

The provincial and federal governments also launched the International Border Pilot Project in November, which allows less quarantine time than the standard 14 days if participants test negative for COVID-19.

Quarantine must be observed until a negative result from the first test upon arrival is received. A second test is also given six or seven days after arrival, and both tests are free, according to the federal government.

The pilot project is run out of Calgary International Airport and applications are available at travel.borderpilot.alberta.ca.

Skaksen said a few of her clients have tried out the program.

“They pre-register within five days of their arrival in Canada … and I’ve heard from clients that they’ve received a result in 18 hours,” she said.

However, she stressed while the pilot project ideally allows less quarantine time, participants should be aware a test could come back positive and two weeks in quarantine may still be mandatory.

Before leaving Canada, travellers are advised to visit travel.gc.ca for advice and advisories.

Some countries want travellers to declare they’re healthy, and travellers can also register their departures with the Canadian government at travel.gc.ca in case of an emergency.

“Passengers are required to know what is expected on board a plane, such as non-surgical masks, and be prepared for schedule changes,” Skaksen said.

When travellers are at their destinations, she said travel.gc.ca provides safety information and travel agents also advise clients to be aware of any possible flight schedule changes.

When travellers return to Canada, they can use the ArriveCAN app to declare where they are staying and how they will observe 14-day quarantines, Skaksen said.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News