In an effort to stem the spread of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, Canada, the United States and many other countries have rushed to enforce new test requirements at their borders – leaving Canadians and many other international travelers to find out of or reconsider their vacation travel plans.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced sweeping changes to the U.S. COVID-19 test policy for international travelers, requiring anyone flying into the country to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of departure.
Earlier this week, the Canadian government also unveiled a handful of new restrictions and changes to its travel policy – most notably the introduction of a new on-arrival test for all non-US travelers While awaiting their test results, travelers are expected to isolate.
Travel Restrictions and Omicron: What’s Changing in Canada, USA
Here’s everything you need to know about the COVID-19 tests you need before traveling to the United States or returning to Canada.
Molecular, antigen or antibody test?
Many travelers say they are still unsure what tests they will need to get into both countries amid the tipping of new restrictions.
Currently, there are two different types of COVID-19 tests – diagnostic, otherwise known as viral, and antibody.
Diagnostic tests are used to show if a person has a COVID-19 infection at the time of the test. Samples for these tests are usually taken either with a nasal or throat swab or by using saliva in a tube.
The two most common COVID-19 tests under this category are molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and rapid antigen tests.
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With a PCR test, a swab is typically used to collect material from your airways deep in your nasal passage. The sample is then sent to a laboratory where a technician interprets the results.
PCR test results can be readily available within 24 hours, but can sometimes take a few days – also varying with the time it takes to reach the laboratories.
The antigen fast test, on the other hand, is usually more readily available and is the cheaper solution of the two. Samples for the test can be collected from either the nose or throat, and a test result can be ready in as little as 15 to 20 minutes.
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Both tests can also be administered on their own under the supervision of a telecommunications health professional, although travelers need to be vigilant about exactly what types and brands of tests are approved by the country they are seeking to go to – and if that country even allows travelers to test themselves.
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Antibody tests, on the other hand, specifically look for the antibodies in your immune system that were produced in response to getting the virus that causes COVID-19.
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Samples for these tests are usually taken with blood taken from a fingerprint or by a doctor.
These tests are not usually recommended for diagnosing active COVID-19 infections, as antibodies can take days or weeks to develop after infection, and they are not usually used to determine whether a person may travel to enter another country borders.
What tests do you need to enter Canada?
The federal government on Tuesday issued several new travel requirements and restrictions, including the need for travelers to test upon arrival in Canada.
All travelers entering Canada must take a PCR test, after which they must be isolated until they get a negative result – regardless of their vaccination status.
Canada still requires anyone entering the country to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure.
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Prices for PCR tests can run up to several hundred dollars depending on where a traveler is flying from and its availability and availability varies from country to country.
Personal PCR tests in Canada can usually be booked quickly in Canada across many health clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and pharmacies – including Rexall and Shoppers Drug Mart. Stores like Costco also sell travel-approved COVID-19 tests, which can be administered even under supervision.
Travelers do not have to pay extra for their PCR test upon arrival, and the federal government promises to cover the full cost.
Previously, fully vaccinated travelers were subject to only random molecular PCR tests, while all unvaccinated travelers had to undergo mandatory quarantine and testing upon arrival, according to the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).
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A complete list of approved tests is available online from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Currently, rapid antigen testing is not accepted as a pre-entry test to enter the country, although a handful of other tests can be used, including nucleic acid tests or RT-LAMP tests.
What tests are required for travel to the United States?
In an effort to stem the spread of the Omicron variant, the United States adopted a handful of new measures on Thursday – including the need for all travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within a day of departure.
The executive order, which takes effect Dec. 6, covers all travelers two years of age and older and includes fully vaccinated U.S. and Canadian citizens.
However, the new restrictions do not limit the types of tests that travelers can use – approve the use of molecular PCR tests, rapid antigen tests and several others.
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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has a complete online list of the types of COVID-19 tests that are accepted and includes NAATs, RT-LAMPs and NEAR tests.
A self-administered PCR or antigen test may also be valid for travel to the United States if the label is FDA approved and monitored in real time by an approved telehealth provider.
Experts and advocates were quick to note that the US test requirement allows the use of the cheaper and easier to get fast antigen tests.
Self-administered antigen tests can vary in price, although some online retailers sell them in Canada for as cheap as $ 10. Pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart can also administer antigen tests with appointments and promise results within 15 to 20 minutes.
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Travelers flying to the United States who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection within the last 90 days may also be exempted from the test requirement if they provide a previous positive test result and a letter from either their health care provider or public health official. to declare them permission to travel.
Richard Vanderlubbe, director of ACTA and founder of Tripcentral.ca, told Global News in an earlier interview that the new US travel restrictions could have “been much worse.”
“Antigen tests are cheap and they are easy to get, you get the results in 15 minutes – so the day before you travel to the states,” he said.
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