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Airlines slam 'confusion' new COVID-19 testing rules create for carriers, passengers

Last Updated Jan 4, 2021 at 10:02 am PST

Workers mill about at a check in counter at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA — Airlines say a slew of questions remain about the federal government’s decision to require passengers returning to Canada to show negative results on COVID-19 tests taken abroad.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced Thursday that air travellers overseas will have to present proof of a negative molecular test — known as a PCR test, conducted with a nasal swab — that was taken within 72 hours of departure, unless the testing is unavailable in that country.

National Airlines Council of Canada chief executive Mike McNaney says the Transport Department has yet to provide a list of foreign agencies whose tests are considered acceptable or to establish how airline employees should determine whether a test document is valid.

He says the new rule, which mandates a 14-day quarantine in Canada regardless of the test result, will cause “confusion” and “frustration” for carriers and passengers alike.

Air Transat vice-president Christophe Hennebelle says Ottawa announced the requirement, which takes effect this Thursday, “out of the blue” without any prior consultation or notice to industry.

Transport Canada did not immediately respond to questions Monday.

The rule comes as a devastated airline sector continues to bleed cash following a collapse in demand caused by the pandemic.

It also arrives amid growing criticism of the federal sick-leave benefit that pays $500 per week for up to two weeks to Canadians quarantined after touching down from abroad, including after vacations.

Some federal and provincial politicians are among those who chose to travel beyond Canada’s borders over the holidays, despite public-health recommendations against non-essential travel.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.

The Canadian Press