OTTAWA — People arriving on flights to Canada from China, Hong Kong and Macao will have to do a COVID-19 test before they board for another two months, after Canada announced it would renew border restrictions on air travel from those areas Thursday.
The government mandated pre-boarding tests for people coming from those places last month after China removed long-standing public health restrictions, causing a countrywide outbreak of the virus.
The test requirement is now expected to remain in place until April 5, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced in a statement Thursday.
The government says it is concerned about reports of a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in China, and a lack of data available from China about potential variants that could be spreading through the country.
"Despite the data provided by China thus far, ongoing gaps in data availability remain a significant concern," the public health agency said in a statement.
"Extending these temporary health measures will provide time for new, reliable data sources to be made available and allow time for expected domestic waves in China to subside."
The agency said it's also concerned about what China's reopening could do to Canada's "already burdened" health-care system.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said earlier this week that the measures were necessary at the time, and any changes would be based on advice from the government's public-health experts.
The move to harden border restrictions for travellers from China drew criticism from some infectious disease experts last month who feared it would do little to stop the global spread of the virus and could worsen anti-Chinese discrimination.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson criticized the change at the time, saying some countries were attempting to manipulate COVID-19 measures for political purposes and it would take countermeasures.
Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research, said the rampant spread of COVID-19 gives the virus the opportunity to mutate, which can lead to new variants.
"We just know that is an area of opportunity for the virus to get stronger," she said in defence of the test requirements.
She said restrictions are not intended to target individuals based on their ethnicity, country of origin, sexuality or gender, but rather to keep a close eye on an area where there has been a major change in the spread of the disease.
"We have to be very careful about how we balance public-health messaging," she said. "We don't want people to feel stigmatized."
The restrictions mean any air traveller over the age of two who lands in Canada on a flight that originated from China, Hong Kong or Macao must have proof of a negative molecular or rapid-antigen COVID-19 test result, no matter their citizenship or vaccination status.
The rule applies even to travellers who are only transiting through Canada on their way to another country.
Those whose flights transfer through China, Hong Kong or Macao and who are in the country for less than 24 hours do not need to take a test.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press