As COVID-19 cases continue to decline across Canada and restrictions are eased, the meetings and events industry is eager to see the restart of corporate meetings, conferences and conventions.
But a major barrier remains to fully welcoming back visitors and attendees. While the federal government took a step in the right direction by allowing the use of rapid antigen tests for pre-departure as of Feb. 28, it is still not enough, according to travel and tourism leaders.
Bridgitte Anderson, president of CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade noted that many businesses in Vancouver depend on international travellers and tourism is a massive economic driver.
“The federal government’s travel restrictions are still a significant deterrent at a time when we need to remove all unnecessary barriers to travel and make our region a destination again. Since the start of the pandemic, Vancouver has seen only a fraction of the 11 million overnight visitors it welcomed in 2019,” she said. “It is time for the federal government to remove obstacles to travel, including the rapid-antigen test. Our tourism sector depends on it.”
The travel and tourism industry is pressing the federal government to remove the pre-departure rapid antigen test for fully vaccinated travellers by April 1, when the regulations will be updated.
“Very few industries have seen have been impacted like the travel and tourism sector. Not only were we the first industry impacted by COVID-19, but it is also quickly becoming clear that we will be last,” said Claire Newell, president of Travel Best Bets. “My travel agency continues to see cancellations, as well as hesitancy in people to book travel due to the confusion around the rules and fear of getting stuck abroad. We need to remove testing for travel – it’s the only way to get international visitors back to Canada.”
While the federal government’s updated travel measures about tests brought Canada one step closer to reopening, the decision to maintain pre-departure testing requirement is out of step with other international jurisdictions that have reopened to fully vaccinated travellers. Some countries that have removed pre-flight COVID-19 testing requirements include the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Denmark.
“In requiring pre-departure rapid antigen tests, the government missed an opportunity to align with other international jurisdictions that have removed pre-departure test requirements for fully vaccinated travelers,” said Anderson.
The travel and tourism industry argue the pandemic, vaccination status, and available science have evolved; so should the response and measures to keep Canadians safe while allowing the travel and tourism industry to reopen.
“Whether it be PCR or rapid antigen testing, COVID-19 testing at the border does not make sense. Travel is no riskier than many other domestic activities, and there is no scientific reason to single it out,” said Dr Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at McMaster University. “The federal government’s outdated travel policies are unnecessarily stranding Canadians abroad, leading to travel delays, financial penalties, and potentially hazardous quarantine locations.”