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Canada’s new pre-departure PRC test requirement continues to cause chaos for travel advisors, travellers, destinations and tour operators alike.
Effective 07JAN, all travellers five years of age or older flying into Canada must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test 72 hours prior to departure.
Advisors have been busy helping desperate travellers navigate the new restriction that have led to price gouging, missed flights and an alarming drop in future travel bookings.
Lesley Paull, founder and general manager of Paull Travel, called it “mass pandemonium.”
In a CBC News article, Paull said the government’s new testing measure comes at a short notice, leaving advisors in the difficult spot of helping clients find labs where they can get their tests done.
“It’s a mess,” Paull said. “To give such short notice to be able to get home with this test… it’s just impractical. At least if we could have had two weeks to make sure everybody got home, I think that would have been a little more realistic.”
She said the immediate job for airlines and travel agents is to ensure travellers who are still in-destination find a lab to get the PCR test done.
Airlines and tour operators have been doing their best to reach out to passengers, warning them of the new requirement and providing lists of clinics nearby the traveller’s resort. But finding labs isn’t their expertise, says Paull.
Gary Rams, an agent with Crowfoot Travel Solutions, told Calgary Herald the situation has been made worse by the government’s mixed messaging: travel is discouraged, though not banned, and travellers may take part in a pilot project offering tests on arrival, which could possibly reduce quarantine time.
He adds that travellers’ desperation to get a test in time has created a perfect environment for price gouging.
“People have had to pay $500 per person in Cabo, but in Cuba it can be $35,” said Rams. Last week, Cuba rolled out COVID-19 testing at resorts in Varadero, Cayo Coco, Cayo Santa Maria and Holguin. The test costs US$30 per person, payable by the traveller.
The influx of travellers seeking to obtain a pre-departure COVID-19 test has also put a strain on in-destination test supplies, where limited quantities of COVID-19 tests, infrastructure or personnel are leading to delays in test turn-around-time.
Over the weekend, the Canadian government temporarily exempted Canadians returning from Jamaica from the new COVID-19 PCR testing requirement, due to the short supply of testing facilities in the island nation.
In Barbados, backlogs in testing have resulted in some Canadians not being able to get the required test within the stipulated time frame, Toronto Sun reports. Testing delays also meant some travellers in Barbados were stuck in their hotel rooms beyond a mandatory 72-hour quarantine period imposed by the island’s government. Barbados has softened the blow by offering to pay for the return trips of travellers facing test delays, as well as covering the hotel room cost until they are able to get those test results.
The new regulation is putting additional strain on an airline industry that was already at the tipping point.
CHTA’s Acting CEO and Director General Vanessa Ledesma said the policy resulted in a rash of cancellations by Canadians who had been scheduled to travel to the region, further harming already fragile tourism-dependent businesses.
While the current situation is chaotic and stressful, Paull said she is equally concerned about how the measure will impact the travel industry in the longer run, saying, “Those that were 50/50 about going, I am sure will not go.”