Appearance at TRAN: Supplemental Mandate Letter and on the pre-entry testing requirements




Date: February 2021

Suggested Responses

  • The closure of borders and public health restrictions implemented in countries across the world to combat the COVID-19 virus have had significant impacts on the Canadian transportation sector.
  • On January 7, 2021, the Government of Canada implemented a requirement for all passengers, age 5 and above, to provide a negative COVID-19 molecular test prior to boarding a flight to Canada.
  • In addition to the pre-departure test, the Government of Canada announced on January 29 additional requirements for air passengers arriving in Canada to limit the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
  • These requirements include the funneling of international passenger flights to four Canadian airports, the obligation for passengers to take a molecular COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada and to spend three days in isolation at an accredited hotel before being allowed to complete the mandatory 14 day isolation at home once a negative test is received.
  • The testing upon arrival and the mandatory three day isolation at an accredited hotel will be effective February 22, 2021.
  • Although we are currently focusing on strengthening our border measures to disincentive Canadians from travelling, both government and industry have taken proactive roles in establishing testing pilots at major ports of entry in order to collect evidence that will support travel and public health measures that continue to protect the public from the virus.


New Arrival Requirements

  • We’re moving forward with these critical measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the introduction of new variants of the virus into Canada.
  • Specific questions related to the testing and quarantining requirements for those entering Canada should be addressed to the Honorable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health.

Testing Pilots

  • Transport Canada remains connected with international partners, including the Internation Civil Aviation Organization and other State authorities to support their efforts on testing with the goal of developing an air testing framework that is recognized internationally.

Temporary Foreign Workers

  • All international passenger flights, including those with temporary foreign workers must land at one of the four major airports. In extraordinary circumstances, it is possible for Transport Canada to grant an exemption to this rule, subject to the Public Health Agency of Canada confirming that all public health requirements are in place.


In order to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus and its variants, new travel restrictions are being implemented and support by Transport Canada to expand the existing measures already in place.

Pre-Departure Testing and Mandatory Isolation for Air Travellers

  • The new requirement for proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test prior to boarding for air travellers was set out in the Interim Order No. 20 Respecting Certain Requirements for Civil Aviation Due to COVID-19, which supports COVID health requirements made by the Minister of Health. It is also stated under the Quarantine Act.
  • The required tests must be performed using a COVID-19 molecular test, such as a polymerase chain reaction or loop-mediated isothermal amplification test and must be taken within 72 hours of the traveller's scheduled departure to Canada. Antigen tests are not accepted as part of this new measure due to their reduced efficacy compared to molecular testing.
  • There are only a limited number of exceptions where an individual is not required have a molecular test. For example, a passenger can present a positive test result that was administered at least 14 days, but no more than 90 days, from the passenger’s scheduled departure to Canada (for passengers that have recovered from COVID-19 and do not have symptoms).
  • In support of this new measure, Government of Canada messaging was strengthened to increase the awareness about the risks of travel. Further, messaging identified that Canadians traveling may encounter challenges in obtaining polymerase chain reaction tests in order to return home.
  • Implementation of this requirement has been an overwhelming success, with airlines around the world fully adopting these new obligations, and with only a small handful of the thousands of air travellers flying to Canada arriving without a test.
  • Starting February 22, new requirements to passengers entering Canada by air will include a molecular COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada and a three day isolation at an accredited hotel. Passengers will then be allowed to complete the mandatory 14 day isolation at home once a negative test is received.

Pre-Departure Testing for Travellers Via land Port of Entry

  • For travellers arriving to Canada by land, as of February 15, 2021, all travellers, with some exceptions, will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test result taken in the United States within 72 hours of pre-arrival, or a positive test taken 14 to 90 days prior to arrival.
  • In addition, as of February 22, 2021, travellers entering Canada at the land border will be required to take a COVID-19 molecular test on arrival as well as toward the end of their 14-day quarantine.

NOTAM for Redirecting Passenger Flights

  • On March 18, 2020, Transport Canada instructed airlines to redirect international passenger flights to four Canadian airports – Toronto Pearson International Airport, Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport and Calgary International Airport. Following this decision, both the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada ensured sufficient increase in their resources at all four airports.
  • As of February 4, 2021, international passenger flights will now only be allowed to enter Canada through the same four points of entry. However, flights arriving from the United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America, which were exempted in the previous restriction, will no longer be exempt.

Testing Pilots

  • As part of the work being done to move toward re-opening borders, consideration is being given to the use of COVID-19 testing as a means to shorten quarantine requirements and improve public confidence in the safety of air travel, while protecting public health.
  • Accordingly, several pilot programs have recently launched to assess the feasibility and risk/benefit of different testing approaches at the border (e.g., alternatives to 14 day quarantine, uptake of testing, positivity rates).
  • Additional details on the pilot projects can be found in the annex background PIC COVID-19 Pilot Testing.


Appendix to covid testing at the border



Date: FEBRUARY 16, 2021



  • On November 2, 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada launched a pilot program with the province of Alberta that involves COVID-19 testing for incoming travellers to Canada, including returning Canadians and foreign nationals currently subject to quarantine rules, as well as essential workers (e.g., air crews and commercial truck drivers).
  • The pilot is open to those arriving to Canada on a direct flight to Calgary International Airport, or using the Coutts, Alberta land crossing, and will continue until 52,000 participants have enrolled, which is estimated to take approximately 26 weeks. The pilot is completely voluntary and confidential.
  • Volunteers are invited to undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test upon their arrival in Canada and until January 25, 2021, these participants were eligible to leave the 14 days mandatory quarantine after receiving a negative result. These volunteers would then get retested a week later at a participating pharmacy to reconfirm their negative status.
  • However, in recognition of the dynamic nature of the pandemic, and the recent confirmation of the new variants of COVID-19 present in travellers returning to Alberta, changes to the pilot were made on January 25. Participants who test negative upon arrival must now remain in quarantine until they receive a second negative test result taken at day 7 or 8.
  • This still means a reduction in quarantine time for travellers who receive negative tests, however, travellers will no longer be able to return to school, daycare, or workplaces outside the home until the 14-day quarantine is completed.
  • Travellers currently exempt from quarantine and planning to stay in Alberta for more than 14 days will also be offered testing upon arrival and at day 7-8, on a voluntary basis. Those workers who cross the border frequently (e.g. daily or weekly, like air crew and commercial truck drivers) will be offered testing every 3-4 weeks. There are over 200 local pharmacies participating in the pilot to facilitate convenient follow-up testing for all individuals involved.
  • {ATIP removed}
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  • The Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Transport Canada continue to work with the proponents to ensure its design and execution provide useful evidence for future decision making.

British Columbia

  • The Vancouver Airport Authority and WestJet are collaborating with the University of British Columbia on a pilot/research study to conduct rapid COVID-19 screening test for select domestic departures for residents of British Columbia on a voluntary basis. Rapid Point-of-Care antigen testing of domestic departures began on November 23, 2020.
  • Since the project roll-out on November 23, 2020, the Vancouver Airport Authority is looking to recruit approximately 1,000 participantsand all samples including negatives will be cross-validated with a polymerase chain reaction test. Travellers who previously tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days will not be eligible to participate in the study.
  • Appropriate health authorities will be engaged if a passenger gets a “positive” result per agreed upon health protocols.

Toronto Pearson International Airport

  • Canada and Ontario are finalizing details on a pilot that would see pre-departure and in-Canada polymerase chain reaction testing on arrival, and 6-7 days after arrival. A second negative in Canada test would see participants released from quarantine, and under restrictions for another 7 days (e.g. restrictions against visits to long-term care homes or to attend large gatherings). 
  • Since February 1st (and until federal arrival testing/quarantine is in place), arrival testing is mandatory upon arrival to Toronto Pearson Airport for all passengers terminating in YYZ and those making onward connections within Ontario.
  • Plans are in place to conduct outbound testing at Toronto Pearson Airport from terminals 1 and 3 for designated routes. This is to test the operationalization of rapid PCR testing in an airport environment, and to research the efficacy of rapid Antigen tests by comparing result data to PCR test result data. The target date to start this pilot is February 16, 2021.
  • Toronto Pearson is also planning to implement an antigen testing program for airport workers, with the goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The pilot will research the efficacy of rapid Antigen tests by comparing result data to rapid PCR test data and will support provincial and local public health case management.

McMaster Health Labs, Air Canada and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority

  • An International Surveillance Border Study was launched on September 3, 2020 and concluded on November 14, 2020 to test international travellers arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport Terminal 1. Voluntary participants were invited to provide a sample to McMaster Health Labs researchers before leaving the airport and to supply two additional self-collected samples. The self-collected samples were collected 7 and 14 days after arrival (during the quarantine period). McMaster Health Labs analyzed the sample for COVID-19 and participants were notified of results within 48 hours.
  • McMaster Health Labs released their preliminary results on November 17, 2020. 781 tests were completed between September 3rd and October 2nd, 2020. Their interim results indicate 99% of study participants tested negative for COVID-19 with 1% testing positive. Of 8,644 participants, out of the 89 travellers who tested positive, 70% (61 cases) were detected on the day of arrival, 23 cases were detected on day 7 and 5 were found positive on day 14.
  • A final report will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication and posted publicly in January 2021.


  • Aéroports de Montréal has partnered with and Biron Health Group to implement antigen testing of passengers departing on international flights to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (Air Canada, Air France-KLM and Air Transat).
  • The pilot launched on December 15, 2020. Travellers are informed of the requirement to take a COVID-19 test prior to departure. They have the option of going to a clinic of their choice within 72 hours before departure for a viral ribonucleic acid test (R- polymerase chain reaction) or to take a rapid antigen test at a cost of $149 on the day of departure at the Montreal-Trudeau International Airport. Those selecting the rapid test option are automatically referred to the Biron Group website to book their test.
  •  A test site will be set up at the airport to administer tests for verified passengers. Travellers must have a negative test certificate in order to proceed to check-in and bag drop. Should a traveller test positive, arrangements to postpone departure will be made and the traveller will leave the terminal and informed of following the appropriate public health measures in place in Québec.
  • As of December 18, 2020, 500 travellers have opted for rapid antigen testing at the airport. Approximate turnaround times for the test is 22 minutes. Tests are available for selected flights (Air Canada, Air France, KLM and Air Transat) whose final destination is France. Portugal has expressed interest in participating in this pilot targeting January 2021.

Detector Dogs

  • A Request for Proposal is being finalized that could lead to the development of a training aid that could be used to socialize detector dogs as a possible screening mechanism for COVID-19 at the border.