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At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and vaccine passports made sense.
Now, say a growing chorus voices in the Canadian travel industry, they no longer do. Instead, they’re contributing to chaos at airports across the country, and leaving Canada out of step with the rest of the world.
Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, is one of those voices calling for the federal government to ditch COVID-related measures at the border, including the ArriveCan app used to check vaccine certificates.
“It’s done its thing, but it’s time to move on,” said Potter on Tuesday. “We’ve told the government that it’s time to pause the ArriveCan app as it’s being used, and we’re not alone.”
The app was first unveiled in late April 2020, roughly a month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.
While airlines grudgingly accepted the need for ArriveCAN when it was introduced, that time has long passed, says Suzanne Acton-Gervais, interim head of the National Airlines Council of Canada, the airline industry’s biggest trade association.
“The National Airlines Council of Canada believes that the current ArriveCAN app policy has outlived its utility and purpose,” said Acton-Gervais in an email. “The Public Health Agency of Canada’s legacy pandemic-era health policies like ArriveCan cause significant delays in Canada’s customs halls. ArriveCAN creates a confusing, complex journey for travellers and keeps Canada out of step with other countries.”
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, whose ministry oversees the use of ArriveCAN, defended the app, saying it has run smoothly and has been used successfully by the vast majority of travellers. If it has been one of the causes of airport delays, says spokesperson Alexander Cohen, it’s far from the only one.
“Global travel volumes are up over 700 per cent since its low point during the pandemic, and airports across the world are feeling the impact. From too many flights to not enough staff, there is no single reason for these delays — but the ArriveCAN app is not the single major factor,” said Cohen.
In late June, the federal government announced it was extending existing travel restrictions — including mandatory use of ArriveCAN — until at least Sept. 30.
Foreign travellers entering Canada still need proof of vaccination to enter the country, while unvaccinated Canadians and permanent residents need to provide a PCR COVID-19 test taken prior to entering, along with quarantining for 14 days upon arrival.
The government still requires all travellers to upload their travel documents and proof of vaccination to the ArriveCAN app.
Despite defending the app’s performance, Cohen said the government hasn’t ruled out changing or one day eliminating ArriveCAN.
“We continue to look for opportunities to improve the border crossing experience for Canadians and those who wish to come here, and no decision has been made on the long-term future of the app,” said Cohen.
The ongoing anti-COVID measures, including ArriveCAN, have put a damper on what tourism businesses had hoped would be their first busy summer since before the pandemic. Instead, Potter said, many are worried about their survival, especially as most government financial aid designed to minimized COVID’s economic impact is winding down.
“They were shut down for the past two summers, and now it’s stretching into a third,” said Potter. “No other industry where you face people still has these restrictions. You can sit in a movie theatre. You can dine at a restaurant. We’re the last ones.”
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which operates Toronto Pearson International Airport, says the ArriveCAN app itself isn’t as big an issue as the location of where health checks and testing take place.
“The GTAA is advocating for all COVID-19 health checks and testing to happen outside the airport to make the international arrivals experience more efficient,” said spokesperson Ryan White. ArriveCAN can actually make for a quicker experience, he said, pointing to a new option on the app that allows travellers to upload their customs declaration.
“We have already seen significant improvements and benefits as a result of this digital integration,” White said.
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