New COVID-19 testing rule complicates student return trips to Canada for term two

A new COVID-19 testing requirement to enter Canada is complicating travel for students coming to Vancouver for term two, as study permits are slowly approved after long backlogs and first-year residence swells by almost 50 per cent.

Beginning January 7, any travellers to Canada will need a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before their flight is set to take off, with a few exceptions. The test administered must be a PCR test or an RT-LAMP test — these tests use either a nasopharyngeal (NP) swab, a throat swab or a saliva sample and aren’t available in all countries.

Travellers who are exempt from the approved tests — such as people providing essential services or from certain countries — are subject to further regulations, required to stay in a predetermined federal quarantine facility, while travellers in countries where tests are available will not be allowed to board without providing a negative test result.

Those who do pass the test are not exempt from quarantining and will still have to complete 14 days in isolation. If their plan fails to meet government standards, travellers will have to enter federal quarantine facilities.

But getting a COVID-19 test can also be costly. Ayan Das, a second-year computer science student, paid to fast-track his test in order to meet the 72 hour limit.

Das travelled from Dubai to Canada on January 9. His main difficulties stemmed from the new regulation’s tight time frame. He said that the requirement to have the test conducted within 72 hours was difficult to meet — as it takes 24 hours or so to get the test back, adding more stress to an already-stressful situation.

He said he had trouble finding a testing facility where he could get a test without an unreasonable wait time.

“I had to go to at least three different testing facilities to see what the wait times were because they were ridiculous, upwards of two and a half to three hours,” he said.

UBC has taken some steps to help students, including a travel guide which includes a checklist and directions on how to fulfill the travel requirements, which Das said was useful, but some issues are left to the students themselves.

Michelle Suderman, director of international student development at UBC, spoke of the ways UBC is helping students with the potential financial burden of getting a test.

“The cost of the tests can vary and if students find that this creates a unexpected and unworkable burden for their finances, they … can consult with enrolment service advisors to see if there might be small funds available from the university to ensure they can make ends meet,” she said.

Suderman said she is also working to ensure that faculty are aware students may be unable to fulfill their educational obligations, and advocates for compassionately and supportively responding to students.

“When international students contact folks at UBC and let them know of difficulties arriving on time, we want to make sure that the UBC staff and faculty they speak with are well aware of the legitimacy of this concern.”