Canadians barred from flights home under new COVID rules

Ten passengers were blocked from boarding a flight from Cancun to Calgary for lacking the proper test for the coronavirus, WestJet Airlines said Thursday.

Another eight vacationers were denied entry to a flight to Toronto from Cuba’s Holguin Airport, Air Canada reported.

The actions occurred on the first day that Canada’s government required international passengers show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed on a plane home.

Some passengers had presented blood test results — but it was the wrong one. WestJet gate staff were handed antibody or antigen test results rather than the required polymerase chain reaction test (PCR) or loop-mediated isothermal amplification tests, said Morgan Bell, a WestJet spokeswoman. An antibody test shows if a person is likely to have had the virus, not if they currently do.

Canada also requires international passengers to self-isolate for 14 days. Negative tests should allow shorter quarantines, the airlines insist.

The rules were unclear to the airlines asked to enforce them. Both WestJet and Air Canada were forced to help the tourists find local labs that could administer the right blood tests.

“As expected, we are experiencing some challenges with customers who have not met the new government testing requirements,” spokeswoman Pascale Déry said.

A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Marc Garneau said government officials met with airlines to help develop the requirements and notify passengers before they took effect.

“We understand that the new requirements can create inconveniences and frustration for some travelers, but we are putting in place those requirements to protect the health of all Canadians,” Allison St-Jean said.

Bell said the passengers were rebooked but added the “situation further highlights the challenges travelers and our operations are facing” from the new requirements.

Canada is facing a second round of infections with an additional 8,153 coronavirus cases and 136 deaths on Wednesday.

The federal government has repeatedly told Canadians to stay home and avoid non-essential travel to reduce spreading or catching the virus that has killed more than 16,500 people in the country.

Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Wednesday that travelers should expect to have difficulties obtaining tests in some countries, partly because local labs prioritize their own health emergencies

“This is exactly why we are advising people not to travel internationally,” Hajdu said.

Several countries, including France, Germany and Spain, have entry requirements that include COVID-19 tests, before or on admission.

Lee Steele

Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.