The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has expressed deep frustration with Canada’s new COVID-19 testing requirement for all arriving air travelers due to come into effect as of January 7, 2021.
In a statement to the press, IATA said, “while the industry for months has been calling for systematic testing to re-open borders without quarantine measures, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears, especially in Canada. Now, in a decision that can only be described as the worst of both worlds, the government is mandating that passengers provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within 72 hours before planned departure to Canada, while at the same time declining to lift existing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
“It is both callous and impractical to impose this new requirement on travelers at such short notice. Moreover, it is completely unrealistic to mandate that airlines check passengers’ compliance with the new rule, as it cannot be the airline’s role to determine if a passenger tried their utmost to get tested or not.
“Canada already has one the world’s most draconian COVID-19 border control regimes, including travel bans and quarantines. Even though COVID-19 testing is an internationally accepted risk-mitigation strategy, there are no plans to adjust the current 14-day quarantine rule nor eliminate the temperature checks airlines are required to perform on passengers wishing to travel to Canada. Moreover, no explanation has been provided as to why a PCR test is the only acceptable test, given that this is not readily available in many countries.”
Many countries recommend against testing unless symptoms are experienced, in order to protect the testing system from overuse and save essential supplies and manpower for those who need it most. One such country is the U.K. However, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said it is considering a similar program to Canada and is looking at the feasibility of requiring travelers from overseas to prove they have tested negative. DfT said on January 5 that details are still to be agreed and will be set out in due course.
IATA pointed to the economic consequences of the prolonged border closure, adding that estimates show that the aviation sector’s direct GDP contribution to Canada’s economy dropped by US$10.39 billion in 2020 vs 2019, placing some 146,000 Canadian jobs at risk. The year-on-year fall in GDP contribution to the wider travel and tourism economy is estimated at US$21.29 billion with some 286,000 jobs at risk.
The association believes the way forward is through a well-planned and coordinated introduction of testing inbound travelers, as a replacement for quarantine measures. “At current infection levels, testing travelers will ensure that opening borders will not pose additional risk of contagion in Canada. We challenge the government to prove otherwise.”
IATA says Canada should put its planned initiative on hold until it has defined testing requirements and coordinated with the industry to achieve realistic implementation timelines. The association also wants Canada to define a policy roadmap to safely re-open borders by managing the risk of contagion with testing as a replacement for quarantine measures
“We need to start 2021 by taking steps to safely live with COVID-19. What is the point of implementing testing if it does not result in a lifting of border closures nor quarantine requirements? After nine-months of closed borders and confinement, we cannot afford to move in the wrong direction with the disastrous implementation of a counter-productive testing policy.”
This story was updated on January 6 to include the U.K. stance on requiring negative tests.