The federal government has announced it will require a negative COVID-19 test for air travellers arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau.
The requirement will come into effect on Jan. 5, at which point travellers aged two and older will need to provide proof of a negative test before leaving for Canada.
In a Dec. 31 news release, the feds say the “temporary” measures are being put in place for 30 days “in response to the surge of COVID-19” in China and “limited epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data.”
“Since the start, our government has taken the necessary steps to keep Canadians safe in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement.
“Our actions continue to be guided by prudence and we will not hesitate to adjust measures to protect the health and safety of Canadians. I encourage everyone to stay up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and to continue to exercise personal protective health measures, like wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces and staying home when sick.”
Under the new travel rules, the COVID-19 test must be taken no more than two days before departure. Tests can include a molecular test, such as a PCR, or an antigen test.
Passengers with documentation proving they tested positive for COVID-19 more than 10 days prior to their departure flight, but no more than 90 days, can use it in place of a negative test result.
The rules apply regardless of nationality or vaccination status.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said while the pandemic has “evolved,” COVID-19 still presents a “threat that requires global co-operation.”
“Canada remains committed to working with global partners to manage the ongoing COVID-19 response and enhance preparedness for the future,” Joly said.
“The Embassy of Canada in Beijing and consulates in China, as well as the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa, stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadians, as needed.”
The decision comes as other countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and others impose similar requirements on travellers arriving from China.
When the U.S. announced its decision on Wednesday, the federal government at the time did not say whether it planned to follow suit.
Chinese state media, meanwhile, have called the COVID-19 test requirements “discriminatory.”
B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement that he welcomes the federal government’s actions.
He also urged anyone planning to travel to China to ensure they are up-to-date on their vaccinations and to take extra precautions to avoid becoming ill, given the potential limited access to health care there.
“B.C. will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in China and around the world closely while working with federal partners to ensure the public is protected and informed of COVID-19 related concerns,” Dix said.
“Our thoughts are with those dealing with the surge of COVID-19 and the health-care workers supporting patients in affected countries.”
Some infectious disease specialists have criticized the approach of mandatory testing for inbound air travellers from China as “performative” and largely ineffective, in part because of the amount of COVID-19 already circulating in Canada.
University of Toronto infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch questioned the move, saying on Twitter, “Really, Canada? No need to jump on the bandwagon of performative measures. This will not keep us any safer. Want to understand which variants are circulating & from where? Then screen wastewater in planes & airports.”
The federal government also said in its announcement Dec. 31 that it is starting a pilot project at Vancouver International Airport to test wastewater from aircraft in order to track new COVID-19 variants of concern. A similar project exists at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
China loosened its pandemic restrictions following recent public protests against the country’s strict zero-COVID policies. Hospitals and funeral homes are now experiencing widespread outbreaks.
Canada has imposed similar testing requirements in the past in response to the emergence of new variants of concern or high cases.
The federal government previously banned flights from the U.K. after the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant, later named Alpha.
That ban was pulled in January 2021 and replaced with new testing requirements.
In December 2021, the federal government also ended its ban on travel from 10 countries in Africa, put in place in response to the Omicron variant, and announced testing requirements for all incoming travellers, regardless of where they came from.
Canada ended its proof of COVID-19 vaccination requirements, as well as pre- and on-arrival testing, on Oct. 1.
With files from CTVNews.ca writers Mitchell Consky and Natasha O’Neill, Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello, former CTVNews.ca Writer Solarina Ho, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters