What to know about coronavirus testing in Canada

Experts fear that random testing on arrival could create problems for some people.

Canada will drop its mandatory pre-arrival testing requirement for travelers on April 1 – but experts fear random testing on arrival could create problems for some people.

The federal government is dropping the pre-arrival testing requirement on April 1, but travelers are still subject to random testing upon arrival at the airport.

Fully immunized travelers who test positive on arrival should self-isolate for 10 days after the onset of symptoms or after the specimen collection date validated by the testing provider. They don’t have to self-quarantine while they wait for the results.

British Columbia only requires five days of isolation after a positive result, but the federal requirement overrides the provincial requirement.

But it is possible to test positive for the virus even if a person is not currently sick.

Prove you had COVID-19

Will McAleer, CEO of the Travel Insurance Association of Canada (THIA), says Vancouver is awesome in a telephone interview that people who could have contracted COVID-19 within 90 to 180 days could still test positive for the virus.

“How do you prove that you have already contracted COVID-19 and recovered?” he asks, noting that many provinces were advising people with mild symptoms to treat themselves at home and not get tested when clinics were overwhelmed.

Following provincial health officer guidance, many British Columbians have not been tested for the coronavirus and have no evidence of a previous infection.

People recovering from infection may “continue to have detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA in upper respiratory specimens until [three] months after illness onset,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The health agency notes, however, that levels of the virus will be “significantly lower than during illness”.

Keep track of a previous infection with you while traveling

McAleer adds that the Canada Border Services Agency is particularly clear about the type of evidence it needs to prove a prior COVID-19 infection. In other words, the rapid test you bought at a local pharmacy won’t be enough, even if you’ve talked to your health care provider about it.

“I know individuals who have returned. They were unable to access a PCR test before leaving,” he notes. “They didn’t have a positive molecular test on a piece of paper or in a digital version of [a] testing company.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 in a professionally administered PCR test, you should keep a record of it with you during your trip.

As the April 1 deadline approaches, the travel health insurance expert wonders if the government will have any comments on the testing requirement.

“Does that mean they’re going to increase randomized PCR testing? Are they going to change randomized testing to rapid antigen as opposed to PCR?”

Unfortunately, no insurer currently covers quarantine requirements when people return home.

Public Health Agency of Canada spokeswoman Anne Génier told Vancouver is Awesome in an email that “a residual positive test result is rare, but it is a possibility” and that “the people who have recovered from COVID-19 can test positive for up to 180 days.”

Find out everything you need to consider as a BC resident booking a trip in 2022, including important insurance considerations.