OTTAWA — Pricey and "irrational" COVID-19 tests, along with "discriminatory" quarantine policies for kids, are making it difficult for families to travel even when all adults are fully vaccinated, according to members of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable
All travellers over the age of five, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test to enter the country. Rapid antigen tests are not adequate under Canada's rules.
That can cost between $150 and $300 for each test, making it prohibitively expensive for many families.
Meanwhile, children can't attend school, camp, or daycare, be in crowded places, or take public transportation for 14 days once they return home to Canada.
"It's irrational," said Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who is also co-chair of the roundtable. "It simply doesn't make sense."
Beatty joined members of the travel and tourism industry at a press conference Thursday to call on the federal government to remove "unnecessary and non-science-based" obstacles to international travel for families.
"The critical consideration here is that people be doubly vaccinated," said Beatty, who served as federal health minister under former prime minister Brian Mulroney from 1989 to 1991.
"If somebody coming into Canada can demonstrate that they've been doubly vaccinated, then they meet the criteria for being low risk in Canada."
Canada's COVID-19 testing and screening expert advisory panel released a report in May that specifically recommended against pre-departure screening for vaccinated travellers. However that was before the Delta variant emerged, and the authors flagged their uncertainty about the potential impacts of variants of concern.
David Schwartz, a father of two who lives in Ottawa, said travel is out of reach for his family right now.
His family hoped to be with his in-laws in Texas to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this winter, but molecular tests for all of them would add $800 to $1,000 to the cost of the trip.
They also can't manage to keep both kids home for an extra two weeks after the trip is over.
A negative test with no symptoms should be enough to allow kids to return to school after travel, he said.
"We've done everything we could to support the pandemic effort as a family. We got vaccinated, we stayed home, we missed those family milestones," Schwartz said.
"We're asking the government today to please change the rules so we can begin to get back to normal life."
The latest figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that of all COVID-19 tests completed at the border on vaccinated travellers between Aug. 9 and Oct. 21, only 0.18 per cent were positive.
For unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travellers, 0.91 per cent were positive.
Last week, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said test requirements at the border are "very much a live issue," but that she still believes pre-departure tests are an important layer of protection to prevent COVID-19 cases being imported to Canada.
"For now, we haven't shifted that policy, but we're reviewing that on an ongoing basis," Tam said Oct. 29. "Especially during a period of time when Canada is still, in many areas, battling the fourth wave."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press