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COVID-19: Canada brings back random testing at major airports

Testing to resume on July 19 at the Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto airports
Hailey Knott, nurse operations manager, waits at a COVID-19 testing station located at the international arrivals area at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. The federal government says mandatory random testing of travellers arriving at its four main airports will start again next week.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA — The federal government says mandatory random testing of travellers arriving at its four main airports will start again next week.

Ottawa paused the random testing of vaccinated travellers entering Canada by air on June 11, while it worked on moving the tests themselves locations outside of airports.

The government now says testing will resume as of July 19 for fully vaccinated travellers arriving at the Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto airports.

It says all testing will be completed outside of airports for unvaccinated people as well as those who are fully or partially vaccinated.

The government initially paused the tests while facing a barrage of criticism from tourism and air travel industry groups that felt federal public health measures were responsible for the chaotic state of Canada's airports. 

At the time, The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable all but begged federal ministers to lift the test requirement permanently, claiming the "outdated rules" were causing serious delays at customs, missed flights, hours-long lineups and soured Canada's reputation.

Airport chaos has continued in the weeks since the testing was suspended.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said Thursday the random tests are an important part of Canada's strategy to detect new variants coming in to the country.

"It's important to know about this in order to formulate other recommendations," Njoo said in French at a press conference where he  announced the approval of a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.

Chief public health office Dr. Theresa Tam has said in the past that the airport tests act as an "early warning system," for new variants. 

The testing will be completed either at an in-person appointment at select testing locations or via a virtual appointment for a swab test.

Travellers who are not fully vaccinated must test on both the first and eighth days of their mandatory 14-day quarantine, unless exempt.

Fully vaccinated travellers will be randomly selected for testing upon arrival at the four biggest airports, and sent to an off-site location for the test to be completed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2022.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press