As COVID-19 case counts have risen and fallen across the globe, along with the emergence of new variants each more contagious than the last, the Canadian government has changed the COVID-19 border entry requirements countless times.
The government has now announced that as of January 5, 2023, all international arrivals from Mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau will need to present a negative COVID-19 molecular or antigen test taken within 48 hours of departure before entering Canada.
COVID-19 Testing Required for China Arrivals
Days after China announced plans to remove all quarantine requirements, Canada has implemented a testing requirement for arrivals from China in response to the local surge in COVID-19 cases.
Beginning January 5, 2023, anyone over two years of age coming from Macau, Hong Kong, or Mainland China will need to show a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight to Canada. This rule only comes into effect when entering Canada by air, and will be checked by the airline prior to boarding.
Travellers may present a negative molecular test, such as a PCR test, or an antigen test that has documentation showing it was monitored by a telehealth service or an accredited laboratory or testing provider.
In lieu of a negative test, travellers may also present a positive COVID-19 test taken at least 10 days, but no more than 90 days, prior to the date of travel.
Canada follows in the footsteps of other countries, such as the United States, Japan, India, South Korea, France, Italy, and Spain, in imposing a pre-travel testing requirement on travellers coming from China.
The government of Canada announced that the pre-travel testing requirement for passengers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau will be a temporary measure and reassessed in 30 days.
How Effective Are These COVID-19 Testing Requirements?
Now that Canada has loosened all COVID-19 restrictions with no mask rules or any other prevention tactics in place, it’s worth asking the question: what exactly is the point of preventing COVID-19 cases from coming in across the border when it’s already spreading rampantly?
Indeed, it seems strange to reintroduce travel restrictions for COVID-19 if we are heading in the direction of treating it as an endemic disease rather a pandemic.
One reason to implement COVID-19 testing prior to inbound flights could be that the true number of COVID-19 cases in China is relatively opaque, and therefore the volume of positive cases potentially coming into the country can be difficult to measure.
However, the same can be said about COVID-19 cases domestically, as most Canadian residents do not qualify for provincially paid COVID-19 testing after all.
Another case could be made for introducing COVID-19 testing on arrival, so that we’d have the ability to look at genomic sequence data and identify any new variants that may be more dangerous, more contagious, or both – something that isn’t being accomplished by the requirement for a negative test prior to departure.
A recent flight from Beijing to Italy was subject to COVID-19 tests upon arrival and showed a positivity rate of 52%, while two other flights afterwards had an average positivity rate of 46%. Indeed, governments around the world are likely reacting to these staggering numbers when implementing new COVID-19 travel restrictions on passengers coming from China.
Even so, these new testing requirements appear to be a performative measure at best given the lack of testing or other controls within our own borders, where COVID-19 has long become endemic.
Canada has announced that international arrivals from Hong Kong, Macau, and Mainland China will need to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken at most 48 hours prior in order to board a flight to Canada as of January 5, 2023.
These measures will remain in place for at least 30 days, upon which the situation will be re-evaluated.
For so long, 2022 appeared to be the year of COVID-19 travel requirements being fully eliminated, only for a new twist to emerge in recent weeks thanks to China’s loosening of restrictions domestically. Let’s hope the merry-go-round comes to a full stop, and the world’s borders fully reopen, as soon as possible in 2023.