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Some Canadian travelers want to know why those arriving from the United States are subject to less strict rules

Some Canadian travelers want to know why those arriving from the United States are subject to less strict rules

Some Canadian travelers required to spend isolated days awaiting COVID-19 test results after returning from abroad want to know why Ottawa is allowing people arriving from the United States to skip quarantine.

“There’s something wrong,” said Kevin McNally of Gatineau, Que. which flew from Panama to Montreal on January 7. He was tested on arrival and waited six days at home in quarantine before receiving his negative test result.

McNally said it was difficult to endure the long wait, knowing that tested travelers who arrive in Canada after being in the United States are exempt from the quarantine requirement.

“I felt like a prisoner in my own country and yet an American can come here and not be quarantined,” said McNally, who works as a travel consultant. “It does not mean anything.”

As part of its enhanced on-arrival testing program, Ottawa is distributing PCR tests daily to thousands of randomly selected and fully vaccinated international travelers upon arrival.

Returning from a trip to Panama, Kevin McNally of Gatineau, Que. waited six days in quarantine before getting his negative test results. (Kevin McNally)

According to rules posted on government website, randomly tested travelers who have been to a country other than the United States in the past 14 days should self-quarantine while awaiting their test results. Those who test negative can be released from isolation.

But tested travelers, including Canadians, who haven’t been anywhere outside of Canada except the United States in the past 14 days, can skip quarantine while they wait for their results — even if cases of the highly contagious variant of Omicron are increasing in the United States.

All unvaccinated travelers incoming from any country are tested on arrival and must quarantine for 14 days.

The government responds

CBC News has asked the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) why vaccinated travelers from the United States who are tested can skip quarantine.

In an email sent on Monday, spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau did not answer the question and instead repeated the government website’s quarantine rules.

Earlier this month, PHAC told CBC News that its travel rules are rooted in science.

“Border measures are based on available data, scientific evidence and monitoring of the epidemiological situation both in Canada and abroad,” spokesperson André Gagnon said in a Jan. 7 email.

Sherif Barakat of Ottawa said that statement did not match. Barakat returned home from Cancun on January 9, was tested upon arrival and waited five days at home in quarantine before receiving his negative test result.

Barakat said the government has yet to present the science as to why he had to self-quarantine, but someone entering from the United States is exempt.

“If you treat people differently, then the question is why?” he said. “Disease has no borders.”

Dr. Prabhat Jha, director of the Center for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital, said it was time to rethink Canada’s mass arrival screening program. (Toronto Health Unit)

Global epidemiologist Dr Prabhat Jha said there was no scientific explanation for less stringent rules for travelers from the United States because Omicron has spread around the world.

“What’s the difference between someone coming from the UK or someone coming from New York? There’s no prevalence and spread of Omicron,” said Jha, who works at St. Michael’s Hospital. of Toronto.

Get rid of arrival tests?

Ottawa’s arrival testing program is also under scrutiny, as the government is potentially spending millions of dollars a day on the program at a time when Omicron has already spread across Canada.

PHAC said the government recently increased its testing capacity to test 26,000 travelers a day upon arrival and the cost of each test can range from $143 to $188.

Members of the travel industry and some doctors, including Jha, argue that travelers must already tdo a molecular test before departure and Omicron is ubiquitous, funds used for mass arrival testing could be better spent fighting COVID-19 on the home front.

The COVID-19 test positivity rate for fully vaccinated travelers tested at random is just above two percent. Across Canada, the test positivity rate is over 20%.

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Jha said Canada setting patchy rules for tested travelers from the United States is just one more reason its arrival testing program is flawed and must be scrapped.

“Insist on a high-quality pre-trip test before [travellers] go away and beyond that, everything else you do earns you so little, it’s just not worth it,” Jha said. “It’s a waste of resources.

The government is stepping up testing on arrival with the goal of testing all fully vaccinated travelers entering Canada from outside the United States upon arrival. PHAC has not yet explained why it will continue to randomly test only vaccinated travelers entering from the United States.

On Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam admitted that Canada’s mass arrival screening program was questionable at this stage.

“It’s a loss of capacity on the systems as a whole,” she told a news conference. “The whole world has Omicron.”

Tam suggested doing random arrival testing would be enough to keep tabs on the coronavirus. However, she said Canada’s current goal of testing most travelers upon arrival would remain in place for the time being.

“We will assess that over time.”

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