WASHINGTON – Canada is about to relax its requirement that returning Canadians pass a Covid test before coming home, but it could be a while before the nation to the north starts allowing Americans in without first getting tested for Covid-19.
In a private meeting Wednesday with about a dozen House members, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his nation would announce its new border plan in a day or two. But he also said that it will first ease the requirement that Canadians must show a negative test before returning to Canada.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who attended the meeting, said Trudeau indicated that his nation is still working out the final details of its plan. But Higgins also said the prime minister said the testing requirement would be ended for Canadians first, then visiting Americans at a later date, and at a still later point for others from around the world.
Higgins said he was among several border-region lawmakers who pressed Trudeau to end the requirement that Americans entering Canada both show proof of vaccination and a test taken within 72 hours of their arrival showing that they are negative for Covid-19.
"I made the point that testing is unnecessary, inconvenient and unpleasant," Higgins said. "And if you follow the science, those who are fully vaccinated should have all the constraints removed from them as it relates to cross-border activity on both the U.S. side and Canada."
Rep. Chris Jacobs, an Orchard Park Republican, did not attend the meeting with Trudeau, but joined bipartisan calls by U.S. lawmakers for Canada to end its testing requirements.
“As I have said from the start, our two nations need a reciprocal approach to fully reopening our shared border," Jacobs said in a statement Wednesday. "While this change is progress, Canada must drop its Covid testing requirement so Canadians and Americans alike can travel freely between our two nations to see family, reunite with friends, and support our local businesses.”
The U.S. opened its border to visiting Canadians on Nov. 8, requiring them to show proof of vaccination but not requiring them to take a Covid-19 test before arriving. Canada opened its borders to nonessential visits from Americans three months before that, but has continued to require visitors to show proof of a negative PCR test for Covid-19 taken no more than 72 hours prior to their arrival in Canada.
The Canadian newspaper La Presse reported Wednesday that Canada soon would waive the testing requirement for Canadians returning to the U.S. from trips of less than 72 hours. Canadians who stay in the U.S. for a longer period will continue to be required to show proof of a negative test.
The testing requirement has spurred complaints from travelers on both sides of the border, simply because it's both inconvenient and costly. The type of Covid test that Canada requires often costs $150 or more. Cheaper but less reliable antigen tests that are available over the counter and produce immediate results are not permitted.
Canadian officials "are well aware of the burden of pre-arrival PCR tests for vaccinated people," Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon, who founded a Canadian Group called Faces of Advocacy that lobbies against the Covid-related travel restrictions, said on Twitter earlier this week.
Higgins is well aware of the burden, too.
"Both sides of the border have been hurt by inconsistent, unnecessary public health pronouncements, and that's why people are frustrated," he said.