WASHINGTON — By early next week, Canadians and all other foreign visitors who travel to the United States by air will need to get a COVID-19 test no later than the day before their departure.
U.S. President Joe Biden is slashing the current 72-hour testing window for fully vaccinated travellers as part of a suite of public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of the highly mutated Omicron variant.
A White House background briefing on the plan late Wednesday made no mention of land borders, or whether fully vaccinated Canadians who drive south would be required to show a test result.
The rise of Omicron marks only the latest twist in the long road back to some semblance of normality for people who routinely travel back and forth between the two countries.
It's been less than a month since the U.S. lifted its restrictions on fully vaccinated non-essential travellers seeking to enter the country by land from Canada and Mexico.
Canada, meanwhile, has for now exempted U.S. visitors from its stringent new rules, which require all other foreign air travellers to get tested upon arrival and self-isolate while awaiting the results.
Currently, the U.S. requires fully vaccinated visitors who are arriving by air from Canada to get tested no more than 72 hours before departure, while those crossing by land need no test at all.
Canada, which began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens to enter the country back in September, continues to require everyone who's had a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine, including Canadians, to also provide proof of a recent negative COVID test.
The government has so far remained mum on whether it expects the exemption for air passengers from the U.S. to change before Monday.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government would consult with provinces and territories on whether to impose similar measures on visitors from the U.S., but Transport Minister Omar Alghabra refused to say Wednesday whether a decision on that score was imminent.
Other components of the 10-point U.S. strategy, outlined Wednesday by the White House in advance of Biden's announcement, include:
—A plan to expand access to booster shots, with a comprehensive outreach effort to convince nearly 100 million eligible Americans to get one;
—New family vaccination clinics to provide a one-stop vaccination stop for entire households;
—Accelerating the effort to safely vaccinate children under the age of five;
—Expanding the availability of at-home test kits;
—Rapid response teams to help with widespread Omicron outbreaks;
—Another 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses donated internationally within the next 100 days.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2021.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press