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COVID Q&A: What happens if I can't get a test in destination? Transport Canada answers your question

Starting this Thurs., Jan. 7, Ottawa will require that all air passengers aged five years or over present written or electronic documents attesting to a negative result in a PCR test for COVID-19 carried out in the 72 hours before travel from a foreign country to Canada.

This new policy was announced on Dec. 31 - in the late afternoon of New Year's Eve, no less - and is raising many questions among consumers and travel agents.

Transport Canada has attempted to respond to some questions in a new backgrounder, some of which we have reproduced here.

Q. What will happen if travellers can’t get a COVID-19 test in the country they are in?

Can they still board a flight and get tested in Canada? Is there another option in Canada when they land if they are not able to get a COVID-19 test abroad?

Transport Canada (TC): Persons who are travelling from a country where PCR testing is unavailable will be required to report to a designated Public Health Agency of Canada quarantine facility for the duration of their mandatory 14-day quarantine. Delays in obtaining test results does not apply.

Q: Can the airline refuse boarding if a traveller doesn’t have / can’t get a test?

TC: Yes. Unless otherwise exempt, presentation of a valid negative test to the airline will be a condition of boarding a flight to Canada and therefore, an airline will be required to refuse boarding to travellers that are unable to demonstrate this.

Q: Who will pay the cost of a PCR test abroad?

TC: Travellers should contact their travel insurance provider (whether they have a group, an individual or a credit-card type of insurance) to find out what their COVID-19 related medical expenses coverage include.

For travellers who do not have travel insurance, we strongly recommend they get insurance immediately and make sure that it covers for COVID-19-related medical expenses, other non-COVID-19 emergency-related expenses, as well as trip cancellation and interruption. Read the fine prints and verify the terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions and requirements of your insurance policy.

Otherwise, travellers are expected to cover any cost related to being tested and obtaining the proof of their test result.

Q. Which COVID-19 tests are official/acceptable?

TC: The test result must be from a lab accredited by an external organization (e.g., a government, a professional association or ISO accreditation). Only written or electronic proof of a negative lab test result (PCR test) conducted within 72 hours prior to boarding a flight to Canada will be accepted.

Q. Is the 72 hours starting at the beginning of the trip or the scheduled time arriving in Canada? Is the time related to the time of the test, or when the results are provided?

TC: A COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test must have been conducted within 72 hours prior to boarding a flight to Canada. In other words, the specimen should be within three days prior to the flight, with the expectation that the results will come in the intervening period.

This timing recognizes that it may take a few days for passengers to receive their results following a PCR test. In addition, flights may be delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, outside the air carrier’s control.

Q. Will passengers still require temperature checks with this new requirement in place?

TC: At this time, yes. All existing health requirements, including health check questions, temperature screening and the wearing of masks on board flights to Canada remain in place.

Q. Would a proof of the vaccine replace the test?

TC: At this time, proof of having a vaccine will not replace a negative test result. While a vaccine protects an individual from illness, further evidence is required to understand if a vaccinated person can still shed virus.

Q. Why won’t the pre-boarding testing reduce quarantine measures?

TC: Pre-boarding testing is another measure adding to our layers of protection but it can still miss some COVID-19 infections. The 14-day quarantine is the most effective measure we know for limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Q. What consular services are available if a traveller cannot board a flight back to Canada?

TC: We continue to provide consular service to Canadians abroad. Information about Canada’s Consular services is available on About Consular Services. Canadian government offices abroad do not provide medical attention (including administering COVID-19 testing) or cover medical expenses for Canadian citizens abroad.

Canadians should sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad if they have not done so already. This service enables Canadians to receive important safety updates from the Government of Canada.

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