COVID-19: What happens if I travel when there’s an advisory? How can rapid tests help?

There are many questions about what is possible as people adjust holiday and travel plans.

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COVID-19 cases in B.C. are rising again and the new Omicron variant is taking off in much of Canada and the world.

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On Wednesday, just 10 days before Christmas, the federal government announced a “Level 3” advisory against all non-essential international travel.

What does that mean for people planning holiday travel?

What happens if I travel when there’s an advisory in place?

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said those who travel abroad risk being stranded, as Canada and other countries may change rules on short notice.

“You may have difficulty returning to Canada, or may have to remain abroad for an indeterminate period,” said the federal government’s website.

Currently, returning travellers are subject to being randomly selected for testing and quarantine upon arrival. Ottawa will be expanding this, though exact details aren’t available yet.

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Will my insurance cover me or is it negated because an advisory is in place?

Some insurance companies may not pay medical claims if the Government of Canada has issued a travel advisory for your destination, according to the federal government’s website.

In stating that Canadians should avoid non-essential travel, the government has issued a Level 3 advisory. Insurance policies differ, but many are void if you choose to travel during a Level 3 or Level 4 advisory.

Some policies may cover medical costs if there wasn’t an advisory in place for the destination before your departure date or if the medical expenses you are claiming are unrelated to the travel advisory, which is in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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It’s not clear how trip interruption or cancellation insurance will apply now there is a travel advisory. Some policies cover any expenses when there is an advisory from the Government of Canada stating “avoid all travel,” which is a Level 4 advisory. That said, many airlines and hotels have more flexible programs where unused tickets and bookings can be pushed forward.

What if I host or attend a holiday dinner or party, and then I find out I or a guest is COVID positive? What should I do next?

Rapid testing kits are an option to help manage risk, but it can be confusing to know where to get them and how effective they are.

Rapid tests could be very helpful in these situations, according to the provincial health officer. Dr. Bonnie Henry said, that “where people have had an exposure, where they’re a close contact, where they’ve been vaccinated, this is a means of determining rapidly, without having to go for a PCR test.”

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She said if the rapid testing kit returns a positive result, then one could go and get a PCR test, which takes longer to process, but is more accurate.

Are rapid tests available in B.C.? Where can I get or buy one?

Unfortunately, the tests aren’t readily available in B.C. pharmacies.

Ontario will be offering two million of them free at malls, libraries, transit hubs and liquor stores. Quebec will be offering residents free test kits at pharmacies and Alberta will also be making them more widely available.

B.C. has been distributing them in some cases, but the province mostly ordered the kind of rapid antigen tests that needs a trained technician, according to Henry.

Some people have been buying Health Canada authorized kits online from sites like Canadian Shield and Rapid Test & Trace . These come in a pack of five tests with a dropper that is used to collect a sample, along with instructions so people can use them by themselves at home.

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There are also some medical clinics where you can pay to get a rapid antigen test done by a trained technician. But it costs $119, plus GST.

Rapid antigen tests can give results within 15 minutes. They provide an accurate result between 50 to 95 per cent of the time, meaning you can test negative even though you are infected.

The PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests take at least 24 hours and have to be done by trained staff, but they provide accurate results about 98 per cent of the time. The PCR test is the one required for travel. They are also more expensive, starting at about $195, plus GST, but more for a 24-hour turnaround.

Is it safe to gather for the holidays?

Even though transmission of the variant within the community is low now, daily infections could hit up to 2,000 a day within six weeks, according to modelling information released this week.

Henry is considering whether to lower the 50-person threshold at which proof of vaccination and safety plans are required for most public events. Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. is reviewing reducing capacity limits to large indoor gatherings such as hockey games, as well as other health restrictions.

jlee-young@postmedia.com

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