Canadians considering taking a vacation abroad have been dealt a blow from the news that free COVID-19 tests will no longer be available to them in Ontario. The decision represents a step back for Ontarians wanting to travel to visit family or vacation abroad during the winter holiday season.
The announcement by the government of the Canadian province came into effect on December 11, ending the ability of Ontarians traveling overseas to take advantage of free test facilities which had been made available for any asymptomatic residents to use since September. While the news is a setback to travelers, it follows a stream of recent announcements in Canada which have expanded COVID-testing programs for travel and offer hope of a return to normal international vacations.
End Of Free Tests A Setback For Travelers
In a press release on December 14, the Ontario provincial government stated that international travel would no longer be considered a valid reason to request a free COVID-19 test. The government explained that the decision to stop allowing travelers access to free COVID tests before taking vacations has been taken so that public funding for testing can be used most appropriately and effectively, and to ensure continued capacity for testing where it is most needed.
The announcement strongly hinted that testing for international travel is not being considered a priority, with the press release emphasising that “The best way to stop COVID-19 is to limit close contacts to the people you live with. As such, travel is not recommended, and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others”.
Explaining the decision, Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, said that “As the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed, we have continued to adapt our approach to testing and the services we have made available,” adding that free tests would still be made available to anyone who needed them.
The news will be disappointing for Ontarians hoping to travel over the winter holiday season, removing an easy way for people to check their COVID-19 status and ensure they are safe to travel and visit friends and family. The availability of free tests for travelers had been a real positive for Ontarians, with few other places around the world offering a similar service.
The new rules mean that those considering traveling will now have to pay for COVID-19 tests, adding considerably to the cost of vacations. Private testing facilities in Ontario typically charge around CAD$200 for asymptomatic people wanting to confirm their COVID status. The extra cost could potentially deter some people from choosing to travel over the holiday period.
Paid COVID Test Availability Expanding
The decision to end free COVID testing for travelers in Ontario represents a new obstacle for overseas vacations, but follows a flurry of more positive announcements expanding availability of pre-travel COVID tests. Importantly, while Ontarians wanting to travel can no longer receive free tests, access to COVID tests for travel has increased in the province with many Shoppers Drug Mart stores now offering pre-flight PCR tests for CAD$199 per passenger.
Airlines and airports have also been working hard to expand availability of pre-flight COVID-19 tests for travelers in Canada in order to encourage a safe return to international vacations, giving tourists peace of mind and making it easier for them to obtain proof of negative COVID status which is required for entry to a growing number of international destinations, including France, Germany and some US states such as Hawaii.
In recent weeks, WestJet announced that it would offer customers from British Columbia and Ontario the opportunity to book a pre-flight COVID-19 test for travel to Hawaii, following the news in November that the airline would offer tests to its passengers departing to the US state from Calgary International Airport in Alberta.
Indeed, Calgary International Airport has established itself as a pioneer of COVID-19 testing, launching a program in early November which allows international travelers to be tested on arrival at the airport and consequently be released from quarantine in just 48 hours instead of after two weeks, providing the test result is negative.
More recently, Vancouver and Montreal International Airports have announced pilot rapid antigen testing programs. These are intended to enable travelers to quickly receive results that enable them to travel to locations which require international arrivals to show proof of a negative COVID test result to gain entry. These new testing programs indicate that the Ontario government’s announcement is a minor setback amongst more positive news for Canadian travelers seeking a safe return to international vacations.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories