Free COVID-19 tests kiboshed for travelling Ontarians

TORONTO — Ontarians flying out for some fun in the sun have to cough up for their own COVID-19 tests now. While a number of destinations require proof of a recent negative test before boarding, provincial taxpayers won’t be party to that exercise anymore.

Effective Dec. 11, the Ford government has cut off funding to previously free COVID-19 tests conducted for international travel clearance — just as wintery weather might be prompting thoughts of palm trees and sandy beaches. Private testing facilities are instead available to travellers who must pay out of pocket.

The move is intended to “ensure taxpayer dollars are appropriately allocated to key priorities and to preserve capacity within the provincially funded COVID-19 testing network,” the government says.

Ontario continues to provide testing, at no cost, to anyone who needs a test, per provincial testing guidelines. This includes people who are symptomatic, or people who have been in contact with someone who has symptoms.

“As the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed, we have continued to adapt our approach to testing and the services we have made available,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “While international travellers are no longer eligible to receive a publicly funded COVID-19 test, we remain committed to ensuring that anyone who needs a test can get one quickly, at no cost.”

This fall, the province updated Ontario’s testing guidelines to prioritize those at greatest risk of getting the virus. Anyone falling within the current Provincial Testing Guidance should continue to seek publicly funded testing — available at participating pharmacies and assessment centres.

The government advises international travellers to consult their travel carrier’s guidelines to ensure they have the most up-to-date information. They should also refer to the federal government’s travel website for up-to-date expectations and requirements related to their destination. The province points out that if a COVID-19 test is required, it is important to leave ample time for testing and to receive results.

In light of the new policy, NVN asked a Ministry of Health spokesperson questions pertaining to potential broader implications for the future.

1) Is this meant to signal the government’s disapproval/opprobrium for those who are travelling out of country these days?

2) What is the private cost of the standard PCR test that would be charged to somebody paying out of pocket for that service in Ontario?

3) Does this policy change foreshadow the government’s willingness to use the withdrawal of OHIP coverage as a cudgel against others similarly demonstrating “pandemic incorrect” behaviour? For example, if people end up sick in hospital with COVID-19 because they refused to take the vaccine (at some point in the future when everyone can get the jab), will the government make them pay out of pocket for their care as well? 

A spokesperson with the ministry responded by email:

The testing strategy in Ontario is based on consultation with health experts and Ontario’s Testing Strategy Expert Panel.

 The Chief Medical Officer of Health has previously recommended that Ontario’s testing guidelines prioritize those who are at the greatest risk, while shifting away from broad asymptomatic testing.

 While international travellers are no longer eligible to receive a publicly funded COVID-19 test, we remain committed to ensuring that anyone who needs a test can get one quickly, at no cost

 Ontario provided these tests at no cost until it was in a position to know that travellers who need a test for this reason would have an alternative option for accessing a test. COVID-19 testing services are readily available and travellers in need of a test can now find convenient local options, including private testing facilities such as a travel clinic.

 The government has no role in setting or suggesting prices for private testing in Ontario.




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