• Thursday , 1 December 2022

Random Covid testing is a problem for groups

After two years when there were no groups from Britain travelling to Canada, my part time job, as a tour guide, started again this year. My wife tells me that I should write a book, as every tour brings some new stories. One of the big “stories” this year is the random Covid testing for incoming international travelers. This had a big impact on my August “coast to coast” tour. When my group of 35 arrived from London Heathrow at Montreal airport, 4 in the group told me that they had been selected for testing. The selection comes in the form of an email from the government of Canada; you are given 48 hours to take a test at the official testing centres. Although everyone was tired after a long day of travelling, I led the group of 4 to the airport testing facility at departure gate 11. Biron have been given the contract in Quebec. Fortunately I arrived at the airport before the group and looked for departure gate 11; there seemed to be no such place. But after asking a few people I did locate the Biron testing centre, so I had no problem leading the people to it. We did not have to wait long and then we were on our way to the hotel in Montreal. After arrival at the hotel more people checked their emails and 4 more people informed me that they had been selected. Now it became more complicated because the following day we had a city tour and then off to Quebec City leaving no time to return to Montreal airport.
When to got to Quebec City I contacted the Biron testing centre there and was told that Covid testing was available by appointment but they had no available time during our stay in Quebec City (two days). In the mean time the 4 people got messages reminding them that they had to get the test in 48 hours; an interesting dilemma. Since we would be visiting Toronto two days later, I did some checking and walk-in testing was available at Pearson airport. It has to be one of the official testing centres that can update the details that are linked to your ArriveCan information. This particular tour has very little free time, so it makes taking time out for Covid testing very difficult. When we arrived in Toronto most of my group went to the CN Tower and then I looked for taxis to take my 4 (and myself) to the testing centre near Pearson airport. Taxis were in short supply but I found a larger vehicle that would take all of us and off we went. Traffic on the Gardiner “expressway” made the British people feel at home; just like the M25; lots of cars making very slow progress. We didn’t have to wait and the tests were completed by Lifelabs (they have the contract in Ontario and BC). The people in my group were relieved as they had received messages threatening them with fines if they did not get tested.
The tour lasts for 17 days and the last stop is the City of Vancouver. The life of a tour guide is never simple and Vancouver presents some challenges. In previous years we looked forward to stopping at Prospect Point in Stanley Park for a coffee and a chance to check out the Lions Gate bridge from close-up. That’s not possible now for tour groups. Although there is a bicycle path all the way around Stanley Park, the city of Vancouver has eliminated tour coach parking at Prospect point to put in a new bicycle lane adjacent to the road through the park. The road through the park was two lanes allowing cars to overtake the tour coaches taking groups for a slow drive. It is only one lane now and a bicycle lane. I am not against providing for bicycles but they already had a route around Stanley park. Does the City of Vancouver want international tourists or not; because they often come in groups on tour coaches.
One member of my group was a single man travelling on his own. During our stay in Vancouver, he informed me that he was getting messages from the government of Canada about Covid testing. It turned out that he was selected for testing two weeks earlier but had trouble getting emails. When he got telephone calls, he did finally succeed in checking his emails but they were in French so he had ignored them. Because the group arrived in Montreal the emails were in French first, you had to scroll down to read the English. When I helped him to check his emails, I advised him to take a taxi to the Vancouver airport test centre as they had walk-in testing available. When he found out that the taxi fare was $50 each way, he was not keen to go. He left it until the last day when he was returning on a flight back to England to get tested. They told him he would get the results in 48 hours. By that time he would be back in the UK making the whole process completely irrelevant. When I go to the Peachland dental office, they check my temperature and make sure I am not sick (a test for Covid). It takes two minutes and helps to protect everyone. It’s simple and effective. So what is the government of Canada trying to achieve with this very expensive and complicated random testing process? It leaves me shaking my head but i do have more material for my book; if I ever write it!

Submitted by Eric Hall

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