Strict COVID-19 testing requirements that have prevented many British Columbians from travelling internationally for nearly two years are changing.
Starting Monday, fully vaccinated travellers returning to Canada can forgo the pricey PCR test and take a rapid antigen test instead, as long as it’s observed by a medical professional and conducted within a day of crossing the border.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Flight Centre spokesperson Allison Wallace, of the change.
“It is less expensive, it’s easier to find, and it’s quicker to get the results.”
Graham Williamson agrees. He’s the president of CVM Medical, which offers pre-flight rapid antigen testing at Vancouver International Airport for travellers headed to the United States.
“Spring break is coming, so this is a perfect move in time for spring break,” Williamson said. “We want to see people travelling again.”
Now that Canada will join the U.S. in accepting a negative rapid antigen test for fully vaccinated travellers, CVM Medical is launching a telehealth option that will allow British Columbians to buy a test kit before they leave and take it with them on their international trip.
“It allows you to do the test yourself on a telehealth call with your cellphone, your laptop, or anywhere you have an internet connection. The nurse validates you with your identification, walks you thought the test, and 15 minutes later you scan it with an app that’s downloaded in your phone, and the results come straight to you and you’re good to go,” said Williamson, who hopes to have the service up and running in a few weeks.
An Ontario-based company called Switch Health also sells rapid antigen kits online that travellers can take on vacation and self-administer over video chat. Travellers who don’t buy a kit to take with them will need to arrange for rapid testing during the last day of their international trip.
“If you’re going to somewhere like Mexico or the Caribbean, all of the main resorts are offering this service. Some of them are doing it at reduced prices or as part of the trip to lure people down,” said Wallace.
If that’s not available, she suggests researching testing options at travel clinics and airports and booking an appointment before leaving Canada.
While Wallace is glad Canada is doing away with the PCR test requirement, she says the industry would prefer fully vaccinated travellers not have to test at all, adding: “It is still an added layer and a bit of a deterrent for many people.”
Williamson believes as long as the U.S. requires a negative rapid antigen test for international air travellers, Canada will as well. While it’s still an obstacle for some, he’s seeing a surge of appointments at his YVR testing clinic from travellers finally ready to pack their bags again.
“This is stimulating the travel market, this is what the travel industry needed to see,” said Williamson. “The rapid test will get back to facilitating travel and opening the borders and allowing tourism and travel to resume and people to be able to reconnect with friends and family in a safe and affordable way. This is great news.”