'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 Ottawaâ€™s new travel rule.
But he said others he met on the Mayan Riviera werenâ€™t so lucky, recalling passengers bumped off of flights because they werenâ€™t able to produce the required negative PCR test results within three days of entering Canada.
â€śI managed to get on the plane, but it was chaotic,â€ť said Wong, who returned aboard a WestJet flight Thursday from a 1Â˝-month stay in Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Mexico.
That was the day the new federal restriction took effect â€” a week after it was first announced, although details followed later, increasing the disarray, he said.
â€śWhen people say they couldnâ€™t get on a plane, I completely understand it. â€¦ So many people changed their flights at the last second,â€ť 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 theyâ€™ve been busy helping desperate travellers navigate the new restriction thatâ€™s led to over-charging at resorts and hotels for COVID-19 tests.
â€śThe good thing is resorts and airlines are trying to arrange testing,â€ť said Gary Rams, an agent with Crowfoot Travel Solutions.
â€śWhat 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.â€ť
But Rams said itâ€™s a scenario that was created by what he calls Ottawaâ€™s abrupt imposition of the testing rule, which doesnâ€™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 governmentâ€™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.
â€ś(Governments) are always trying to please everybody,â€ť said Rams.
â€śThis (testing rule) should have been done months ago.â€ť
Wong said Canadian travellers in Mexicoâ€™s Yucatan were confronted with problems arising from the testing requirement that government officials clearly didnâ€™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 sheâ€™s aware international travel is discouraged during the pandemic but added her family wanted to help the countryâ€™s ailing travel industry by vacationing in Mexico and assumed the testing pilot project at Calgary International Airport would make their trip easier.