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Ottawa will temporarily suspend its random COVID-19 testing for air passengers

Ottawa will temporarily suspend its random COVID-19 testing for air passengers, but has left its domestic travel vaccine mandate in place, even as sources say most Liberal MPs agree with the Conservative position to scrap it.

On Friday, the federal government announced that it would stop mandating random testing of fully vaccinated travellers effective Saturday. The suspension will be in place until July 1, when the random testing will resume but outside of airports.

Testing of unvaccinated travellers will continue but move off site at the end of the month.

The changes are the latest attempt by the federal government to ease the bottlenecks at airports, particularly Toronto’s Pearson, that are leading to hours-long waits, missed connections and cancelled flights. Ottawa has also hired more security screening officers and is installing more customs kiosks.

The aviation industry and Official Opposition Conservatives have blamed airport chaos in part on the federal COVID-19 rules and are calling for an end to testing policies and vaccine mandates (which apply to international and domestic travellers and airport staff). The delays are also being fuelled by a staffing crunch, with airlines and security agencies scrambling to hire staff amid a surge in travellers.

Morgan Bell, a spokeswoman for Calgary-based WestJet Airlines, called the random-testing suspension a “step in the right direction,” but added that the airline wants all of the pandemic rules removed.

Canada had already dropped its mandatory prearrival testing requirement, but unlike the United States and many other countries, Canada requires domestic travellers by air and rail to be vaccinated.

The United States on Sunday will drop the requirement for prearrival COVID-19 tests for people arriving by airplane. The move is expected to boost the volume of visitors to the U.S., and also reduce the delays travellers face departing for the U.S. from Canadian airports.

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, who has been pushing for an end to the mandates since February, said moving the random testing off-site solves one problem but creates another by adding a different layer of complexity for travellers. She said the government has not shared data to justify the mandates, which she calls “punitive.” Most other jurisdictions in Canada have dropped their vaccine mandates.

A Government of Canada web page on evidence of COVID-19 transmission in flight, last updated in November, cited one study that found that vaccinated passengers were 74 per cent less likely to be infected compared with those who are not vaccinated. The impact of vaccine mandates on in-flight transmission was not contained in any study and most research occurred prior to widespread vaccination rollout, the site said.

Canada Press    6/11/2022


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