Speakers Corner: Frustration builds over COVID travel tests

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This week people are speaking out about pre-departure COVID tests. You need one before you board a flight out of the country but some travellers say the costs are outrageous. They argue the companies who administer them need to be reigned in.

Tim Segato is one of them. He and his husband are heading to the U.K. to see his husband’s mom.

“It’s been a little over two years since we’ve been able to see her. Now that Canada is on the green list for travel to the U.K., we booked a trip to go see her.”

But the cost to do so is high and not just for the plane tickets.

“Leaving it’s $199 for each for us.”

Segato’s talking about the price they paid for pre-departure COVID tests which are required for international travel.

There was a time when the province of Ontario paid for those tests but that ended in December of 2020.

“When the province ended testing, they mentioned that it cost the taxpayers about $48 per test. Now that we have to pay for our own tests through private clinics, the cost just seems to be astronomical,” Segato said.

So why the price disparity? CityNews reached out to two of the biggest private companies offering the tests in Ontario. LifeLabs is one of them.

“The private model is very different than the publicly funded PCR testing program,” said Justin Bates with the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

“Each pharmacy or pharmacy organization privately procures the tests which is different than the public program,” he said.

“PCR testing requires contract with a lab facility and rapid testing requires contract with manufacturer of the tests. Service fees include cost of test, service provision and shipping costs, which are market driven.”

But many argue private testing companies aren’t losing money on the deal.

“Many companies have seen and taken advantage of a scenario when people need something they can supply it,” said Marty Firestone, President of Travel Secure, a travel insurance brokerage. He says there’s no clear structure on what the tests cost.

“You want your test results in an hour, it can be $300, you want to wait a day it’s far less. It’s not like the test is any stronger that’s ready in 15 minutes as opposed to one that’s ready the next day. It is, I hate to say it, pay as you play,” Firestone said.

Which is why many people like Segato are calling on the government of either Ontario or Canada to step in and regulate these companies.

“When I was shopping around for tests, I saw some upwards of $280 for a test. That kind of cost is just crazy. I think that the government should definitely look into putting some sort of regulations or caps on how much can be charged for these tests,” he said.

That’s what happened in the U.K. back in August. After public outcry, the government began regulating private testing companies and has lowered the cost of pre-departure COVID tests. CityNews checked and so far there are no plans in place to do the same here in Canada.

CityNews also reached out to all Members of Parliament serving on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Only one got back to us.

“The costs are excessive and ought to be regulated. we need national leadership to deal with this,” said M.P. Don Davies. But he did not say what he plans to do to change that.

So why the silence? Firestone says the government’s approach is in line with the message.

“Our government is advising us to avoid all non-essential travel so you can argue why are they going to pay or reduce costs for something that is enabling you to travel?” he said.

But travellers like Segato aren’t looking for a hand out, they just want some oversight.

“I totally agree people travelling for pleasure should pay for the tests. I just feel like the province or the federal government should be regulating this if it’s a government mandated test,” he said. “There should be regulations put in place because I feel like there might be some people looking to cash in on the ability to charge people for these tests right now.”

If you have an issue, story or question you’d like us to look into, reach out to us here.

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