Canada says it won’t accept SA Covid-19 tests because... flights are long

Business Insider SA

News analysis

Canada: no entry
  • Canadian citizens travelling from South Africa are required to stop over in another country to get a PCR test, in order to go home.
  • The "third country" testing requirement has seen Canada route its citizens through a country at war, as a safety precaution.
  • The rule was imposed after Omicron, only on African states.
  • Asked what it would take for SA tests to be accepted, Canadian authorities said the problem is long flights.
  • For more stories go to

Why is Canada no longer accepting Covid-19 tests done in South Africa? Because, it says, of long flights.

In late November, amid panic about the Omicron variant, Canada imposed a "third country" testing rule for its citizens and residents returning from some countries in Africa, while closing its borders to non-residents who had been in the region. In order to be let back in, Canadians from a list of ten countries (South Africa and its immediate neighbours, plus Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt) must show "a valid negative Covid-19 molecular test in a third country before continuing their journey to Canada."

With an increasing number of countries requiring pre-departure Covid-19 PCR tests, that means those allowed to travel to Canada must do a PCR test in South Africa to board a plane, travel to another country, must then typically pass through border controls in order to get another test, wait for that result, and may only then fly into Canada.

Airlines have scrambled to come up with ways to help passengers meet the bizarre requirement, with Air France now offering in-transit testing at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris – albeit with the warning that travel dates may have to be changed to get a testing slot.

Before such systems were in place, Canadian authorities sent at least one family via Ethiopia, a country at war, as part of its Omicron safety measures.

Canada has apparently not imposed third-country testing requirements for any country outside of Africa, though it did not confirm as much in response to questions.

Instead, it said only that its decision to not accept South African tests is based on science.

"Like every other element of the Government of Canada’s Covid-19 response, border measures are based on available data, scientific evidence and monitoring of the epidemiological situation both in Canada and internationally," said the Public Health Agency of Canada in response to questions from Business Insider South Africa.

"The requirement for pre-entry molecular testing in a third country is in place so that the risk of the traveller being exposed to the virus and its variants between the time of testing and boarding the plane, which can take up to 72 hours, is reduced."The requirement for pre-entry molecular testing in a third country is in place to reduce the time from when the pre-departure test is done prior to arrival in Canada. The third country testing increases the likelihood of detecting infected individuals who have flight itineraries of longer duration."

Canada has imposed no similar testing requirement for non-African countries with known occurrences of Omicron at the other end of long-haul flights, or with much longer transit times than for South Africa.

The Public Health Agency did not answer other questions, including whether the third-country requirement should be interpreted as a lack of faith in the integrity of South African testing, and on the ethics of off-shoring risk to stopover countries.

Canada's diplomatic mission in South African acknowledged receipt of the same questions, but did not respond.

Canada has since announced a "temporary exemption" for travellers from South Africa, as long as they transit via Frankfurt or fly direct via Air Canada – before 13 December. For those flights, an accredited South African PCR test will be accepted. Those travellers will then be required to spend time in a government quarantine hotel in Canada.

The exemption has been presented as a stop-gap measure to allow stranded Canadians to get back home. After that, the third-country testing requirement is expected to apply again.

Canadian authorities notified the parents of the country's junior national women's team – which had been stranded in Potchefstroom – of the exemption soon after its announcement. 

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