WASHINGTON — The federal government says that as of Nov. 30, fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who are visiting the United States for less than 72 hours won’t need a costly molecular test for COVID-19 in order to return home.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also says that by the end of the month, travellers who received the Sinopharm, Sinovac and Covaxin vaccines will be considered fully vaccinated for travel purposes.
Critics in both countries have been complaining for weeks about the need for what’s known as a PCR test, which can run between $150-$300 per swab, saying it’s a major deterrent to the resumption of cross-border travel.
Travellers who are out of the country for more than 72 hours, however, will still be required to present a negative molecular test at the border on their way home.
“We can’t let our guard down,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference Friday as he unveiled the new rules. “Every one of us must work hard to protect the gains we have made.”
New York congressman Rep. Brian Higgins wants the test scrapped entirely for vaccinated travellers, but officials say Canada is taking a more responsible, gradual approach to easing its travel restrictions.
The agency also says that as of Jan. 15, it is closing certain loopholes in the vaccination requirement for travellers, including for international students, athletes, work permit holders and essential service providers, including truck drivers.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce promptly panned the decision to leave the PCR test requirement in place for longer-term trips, calling it a “one-way door on the border.”
“Just as the holiday shopping season — the most important period for the retail sector — begins, Ottawa is making it easier for Canadians to cross-border shop while maintaining punitive restrictions that discourage fully vaccinated Americans from vacationing or shopping in Canada,” chamber president and CEO Perrin Beatty said in a statement.
“The 72-hour cutoff is also arbitrary. It is hard to understand how travellers are low-risk for 72 hours, but become a danger at hour 73.”