MONTREAL (Reuters) -Canada will require air travelers aged 5 and up to test negative for COVID-19 before arrival, starting Jan. 7, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Thursday, as the country tightens travel restrictions amid soaring cases of the novel coronavirus.
Passengers will need to have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to their scheduled departure to Canada, the country said on Wednesday, after social media images of maskless Canadian tourists abroad prompted calls for stricter measures to curb the virus.
Documentation showing a negative result must be shown to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada, Garneau said in a statement that offers additional details about the requirement, like the starting date.
Pre-departure testing will not eliminate a mandatory 14-day quarantine for arrivals, in a blow to Canada’s battered airlines which had been pushing for a negative result to be accepted as an alternative to such restrictions.
“The announcement only addresses one element of the path forward – the utilization of testing to help further protect public health,” said Mike McNaney, president of National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents large carriers like Air Canada.
“We strongly believe it must also be utilized in conjunction with measures to reduce quarantine levels,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
The new measures add to Canada’s existing restrictions, which normally deny non-essential foreigners entry and where citizens returning from abroad are required to quarantine.
Canada will also increase surveillance to ensure travellers entering Canada complete their quarantine, Garneau said.
Canada reported on Thursday a total of 572,982 cases of COVID-19, as new cases surged in its most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec.
On Tuesday, Quebec urged the federal government to require COVID-19 testing for residents returning from year-end vacations, as hospitals wrestle with growing cases in the province.
(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Leslie Adler)