Slow PCR test required for entry into Canada 'a dinosaur,' says rapid testing expert
VANCOUVER – While Canadians can fly to the U.S. with a negative rapid antigen test, they need to take a PCR test within 72 hours of when they return home at both land and air borders.
The molecular tests take one to three days to come back from a lab, and can cost $150-$250 dollars in both Canada and the U.S.
“I think its ridiculous, I think we need to be harmonized with the United States,” said Graham Williamson, the CEO of testing company CVM Medical, which has a same-day rapid antigen testing site at the Vancouver International Airport for people flying to the U.S.
CVM Medical clients are told to arrive at least three hours before their flight, and after their negative nasal swab, they’ll get a certificate clearing them to fly to the U.S. within 45 mins. It costs $129, which is significantly less than a PCR test.
“The PCR test to cross back into Canada is almost a dinosaur in the COVID testing world,” said Williamson.
He says the 72-hour window where travellers can take the PCR test before presenting it at a land border or airport makes the result irrelevant.
“We want to know, the folks that are travelling right now, whether or not they have COVID at that moment. Not what happened three days ago, not what happened two days ago,” said Williamson. “We need to be doing real-time testing, and the only way to do real-time testing is with a rapid test.”
He’d like to see Canada accept rapid antigen tests for travellers returning to the country by air, and believes it would revive cross border shopping at land crossings too.
“Head to Walmart, head to Costco, grab your gas, grab you milk, take your antigen test and be on your way, it’s really that simple. That’s what rapid testing is designed for,” said Williamson.
Surrey business traveller Lars Paegel, who took his 17th pre-trip COVID test at CVM Medical on Monday afternoon before a flight to North Carolina, is fed up with the Canadian testing rules.
“Obviously going down to the US is a lot easier with just the antigen test. This is quick, it’s easy. Coming back to Canada, the PCR test has gotten busier and busier. Long line ups and you have to plan well in advance,” said Paegel.
He says the Canadian PCR requirement has impacted his travel several times.
“I have had some trouble on a couple of trips where I actually had to stay in the U.S. because my travel had taken too long, so the test expired before I got back,” Paegel said.
Like Williamson, the frequent traveller would like to see Canada accept rapid attention testing for re-entry, adding “I think the faster you can get tested the better. So the antigen test to me, just makes sense.”