Windsor-Essex eager for lifting of PCR test rule for short travel

The federal government will announce on Friday that Canadians won’t need a PCR test for trips outside the country that are less than 72 hours, say sources.

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Possible changes to COVID-19 test requirements at the Canada-U.S. border are being eagerly anticipated in Windsor-Essex.

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Although no official statement had been made by the federal government as of Wednesday, media outlets such as Montreal newspaper La Presse have cited an unnamed source that Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos will make an announcement at the end of the week.

According to reports, the change is that a negative result on a molecular test for COVID-19 will no longer be necessary for vaccinated Canadian citizens or permanent residents who travel outside of the country for less than 72 hours.

“That would be a great day for Windsor-Essex,” said Rakesh Naidu, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. “I’m hoping that it’s true and that it’s imminent.”

The testing requirement will remain in place for anyone who travels outside Canada for longer than 72 hours, as well as Canadians who aren’t fully vaccinated, La Presse reported.

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Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk would not confirm the policy change, but noted that a news conference by Duclos has been scheduled for Friday.

And the Canadian Press has reported that Duclos  plans to announce changes to COVID-19  border measures “very soon.”

“What I can tell you is that we’ve been engaged on this issue, very intensely,” Kusmierczyk said on Wednesday. “We’ve been communicating our local concerns to the minister’s office, and the prime minister’s office.”

“We’ve heard from mayors, constituents, businesses, and folks who want to visit family.”

Often costing hundreds of dollars, molecular COVID-19 tests — of which polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are the most common and reliable — have been a significant obstacle to Windsor-Essex residents wishing to cross the border for short-term personal travel.

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“The cost of a PCR test is really prohibitive,” Kusmierczyk admitted. “And there are questions about what role, exactly, does it play in preventing the importation of COVID.”

While the ongoing and changing nature of the pandemic means government policy must be continually reviewed, Kusmierczyk said there was particular encouragement for revision of the testing requirement when Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam said last week that it warrants re-examination.

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Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and other local leaders have been vocal about their disagreement with the test requirement and its negative impacts on communities close to the Canada-U.S. border.

Last week, a group of border city mayors that included Dilkens joined a teleconference with Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety.

However, Mendicino made no announcement at that time.

The mayor’s office said on Wednesday that Dilkens is withholding comment until there’s been official word from the federal government.

Meanwhile, Naidu hailed the change as a step in the right direction. But he added that he hopes further lifting of requirements will not be a long time coming — especially changes that will encourage U.S. visitors to Canada.

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“In Windsor-Essex, we’re crossing the border, doing business on both sides. This is second nature to us,” Naidu argued. “We need to open up opportunities for business, on both sides.”

“Clearly, we haven’t seen normal traffic volume for a very long time.”

But Kusmierczyk said the health and public safety of Canadians has been and will remain the federal government’s top priority when it comes to border policy.

“If you look at our track record over the last two years … the government has always taken a gradual, careful approach,” Kusmierczyk said.

“It has also been reflective of the situation on the ground. What we’re seeing on the U.S. side — and specifically Michigan and the midwestern states — is that they are currently in a terrible fourth wave. Thousands of cases a day, hospitals at capacity. That is something that has to be taken into account.”

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