Headline News By Bill Kaufmann 163 Views

'It was chaotic': Travellers, agents describe ordeal under Ottawa's new COVID testing rules

Calgarian Andrew Wong said he managed to secure a last-minute COVID-19 test in Mexico before a flight left half-empty due to turmoil over Ottawa’s new travel rule.

But he said others he met on the Mayan Riviera weren’t so lucky, recalling passengers bumped off of flights because they weren’t able to produce the required negative PCR test results within three days of entering Canada.

“I managed to get on the plane, but it was chaotic,” said Wong, who returned aboard a WestJet flight Thursday from a 1½-month stay in Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Mexico.

That was the day the new federal restriction took effect — a week after it was first announced, although details followed later, increasing the disarray, he said.

“When people say they couldn’t get on a plane, I completely understand it. … So many people changed their flights at the last second,” said Wong.

Wong, 32, said he scrambled to find a COVID-19 test and walked for more than an hour to a clinic in Playa Del Carmen last Monday to get one at a cost of $175.

Calgary travel agents say they’ve been busy helping desperate travellers navigate the new restriction that’s led to over-charging at resorts and hotels for COVID-19 tests.

“The good thing is resorts and airlines are trying to arrange testing,” said Gary Rams, an agent with Crowfoot Travel Solutions.

“What I have a problem with is that some places are gouging. People have had to pay $500 per person in Cabo, but in Cuba it can be $35.”

But Rams said it’s a scenario that was created by what he calls Ottawa’s abrupt imposition of the testing rule, which doesn’t lift the obligation for travellers to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

He said the situation has been made worse by the government’s mixed messaging. Travel is discouraged, though not banned, and travellers may take part in a pilot project offering tests on arrival, which could possibly reduce quarantine time.

“(Governments) are always trying to please everybody,” said Rams.

“This (testing rule) should have been done months ago.”

Wong said Canadian travellers in Mexico’s Yucatan were confronted with problems arising from the testing requirement that government officials clearly didn’t foresee.

Large numbers of Brazilian tourists snapped up many COVID-19 tests just as Canadians discovered they would need them, he said.

One Calgary woman said she’s aware international travel is discouraged during the pandemic but added her family wanted to help the country’s ailing travel industry by vacationing in Mexico and assumed the testing pilot project at Calgary International Airport would make their trip easier.