Canadians’ flirtation with easier trips across the border has been short lived, with Ottawa reintroducing requirements for negative COVID-19 PCR tests for trips under 72 hours.
The new measures, announced Friday, come amid concerns over the newly identified Omicron variant, which experts have found to be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant.
American authorities opened their border to fully vaccinated Canadian travellers on November 8, however, Ottawa still required any travellers coming over the land border to produce a negative PCR test. U.S. authorities have no such requirement for those arriving at their border.
Ottawa lifted that requirement on November 30 before Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Friday the federal government was reintroducing it once again due to the rise of the Omicron variant.
Throughout November, travellers could get their PCR tests taken in Canada, take a trip to the U.S. and then present the negative PCR test taken in Canada to border guards upon returning home.
With the new restrictions set to go into effect December 21, Duclos said tests will now have to be taken outside of Canada.
“Like all measures, this is not a perfect measure but it’s an important one,” the health minister said.
With the Omicron variant spreading to at least 70 countries now, Duclos said the government was lifting the travel bans placed on 10 African countries targeted after Omicron was initially detected in those nations.
Those restrictions will be lifted by end of day Saturday.
“If Omicron replaces Delta, as we’ve seen elsewhere, we could have a much stronger and faster resurgence than we’ve seen before,” said chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, warning health-care systems could be inundated as a result.
“It is important to stress that being fully vaccinated and then getting a booster, whether Pfizer [Inc. (NYSE:PFE)]or Moderna [Inc. (NYSE:MRNA)], is expected to provide a reasonable level of protection against infection and likely strong protection against severe illness.”
About 3.5 million Canadians have received a booster dose to date, while the country has 22 million booster doses “in stock,” according to Duclos.
He said another 3.5 million pediatric doses meant for children ages five to 11 are due to arrive in January.
Duclos revealed new COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers arriving at Canadian airports has yet to hit its target of 23,000 tests administered daily. Those travellers must also possess a negative pre-entry test before arriving in Canada.
One week ago 17,000 tests were being administered daily, while that number has risen to 21,000 tests as of Friday. Travellers from the U.S. are exempt from the new testing requirements.
“This situation in the U.S. is different from what we see outside of North America,” he said, referring to the Omicron variant.
“Per capita, the U.S. officially has about 10 times fewer cases than Canada. Denmark has per capita, 200 times.”
Duclos acknowledged the U.S. data could be “both inaccurate and outdated.”