K is for Kanada’s Kovid testing and Kafka

Describing Canada’s current COVID testing for international travelers as Kafkaesque is an overstatement, but only because the system smacks more of Monty Python.

This is what happened when I returned to Canada on Thursday 21st April.

Return to Canada: Thursday

No Covid tests are currently required for fully vaccinated travelers, but a test may be required upon arrival if the traveler is randomly selected.

I landed at 16h00 on Thursday 21st, breezed through customs, and left the airport.

Some travelers had been sent down another escalator, following a sign saying ‘Covid test’, or words to that effect. I assumed that these were the people who had been randomly selected for ‘on-arrival’ tests.

Four days after landing: Monday

I received a call from an anonymous number (1-888-336-7735) at around 9.00am on Monday. I don’t pick up anonymous calls.

At 10.00am, just as I was entering my first meeting, the same number called again.

At 11.00am, just before my next meeting, the same number called again. I picked up, and heard the first words of a great scam, something like: “This is a call from Canada border services, don’t terminate the call”. I terminated the call.

At around 12.00, I was in yet another meeting, the same number called. Again, I was busy, and unwilling to be scammed.

Five days after landing: Tuesday

I received another call from the anonymous number at around 9.00am. At about 9.35 it calls again: this time I am relatively free, and decide to listen.

After plowing through a slow menu, I discover that I have been selected for an ‘on-arrival’ COVID test, and that I should contact my COVID test supplier. If I don’t, the slow computer threatens, I could be fined up to $5000, and be subjected to other nasty things.

An ‘on-arrival’ test? Five days after landing? Really???

My COVID test supplier? Which one? I have so many COVID test suppliers.

Five days after landing: Tuesday – conversation with a human

The moronic computer did provide a number to call: 1-833-784-4397. I got through to someone fairly quickly, who confirmed that ‘on-arrival’ tests can take place any time, and that my COVID supplier is the monopolistic Biron. “They will send you a kit, and you can take the test at home”.

So I call Biron. I get through quite quickly, but at first the lady who answered had no idea what I was talking about. She went away to check, and after about 5 minutes discovered that, indeed, Biron performs ‘on-arrival’ tests after arrival. “When do you want to come to the lab for the test?” she asks.

“But don’t you just send a kit: the Government of Canada just told me?”

“Oh no! New regulations have been implemented this morning, and now post-arrival on-arrival tests must be done in lab.”

I consulted my agenda, and we zero in on Tuesday morning, 3rd May, at 7.30am (which will be 12 days after landing).

Six days after landing

I received calls from the anonymous number at around 9.00am, 10.00am, 11.00am and 12.00am, at which point I blocked the number.

If I get fined, so be it, but what more can I do?

Twelve days after landing: time for my ‘on-arrival’ COVID test

What is the point of this test?

Published by Richard Shearmur

I am a professor at McGill's School of Urban Planning. I perform research on innovation, on how we locate work activities (in a world where people often work from many places), and on urban and regional economic geography. I used to work in real-estate, and teach a course on this. I am an urban planner, member of the Ordre des Urbanistes du Québec and of the Canadian institute of Planners.

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