WASHINGTON—Ottawa plans to lift a requirement of negative COVID-19 test results for travellers who have been out of the country for less than 72 hours, the Star has learned.

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WASHINGTON—Ottawa plans to lift a requirement of negative COVID-19 test results for travellers who have been out of the country for less than 72 hours, the Star has learned.

The revised policy will be introduced in phases — first to Canadians, then Americans, and eventually to citizens of other countries — according to a source in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped short of confirming the news, but said his government was “looking at making steps to loosen up requirements while at the same time keeping Canadians safe. We will have an announcement to make in the coming days.”

Trudeau spoke shortly after his meeting with members of the U.S. Congress, many of whom have been calling on him to ease the testing requirement.

Travellers arriving in Canada from abroad are currently required to show proof of a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their arrival. The result must be from a polymerase chain reaction or PCR test, rather than from quicker and less expensive rapid antigen tests that are much more widely available.

Congressman Brian Higgins, the chair of the U.S. Congressional Northern Border Caucus, said he’d been informed of the plan to loosen the border-crossing requirement during a meeting with Trudeau earlier in the day on Capitol Hill.

“I was encouraged by today’s meeting that testing requirements on vaccinated Americans will soon be addressed,” Higgins said in a written statement. “I hope that discussions this week can produce a more cohesive policy strategy between the U.S. and Canada on this and other matters.”

The first phase of the change in COVID-19 testing policy at the border is expected to be formally announced Friday, and to come into effect at the end of the month.

Trudeau is in Washington for a “three amigos” summit on Thursday with President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House.

Trudeau’s priorities at the summit include fighting trade protectionism, and the border testing issue has been a priority for some members of Congress whose support he will need if Canada is to get around proposed “Buy American” restrictions on car subsidies.

The Canadian requirement of negative PCR test results for those making short trips has been controversial, with critics charging that the 72-hour window made them essentially meaningless.

They noted that it was possible for a Canadian to take a test before departing for the United States, then return to Canada using a negative result that did not reflect any potential exposure to COVID-19 that the traveller may have had in the U.S.

A co-chair of Canada’s advisory board on COVID-19 testing and screening was among those who acknowledged that such testing was of limited value.

“Even if we were going to require tests from these travellers, a test taken in Canada before the trip even starts would not be helpful,” Dr. Irfan Dhalla told The Canadian Press.

Last week, Canada’s chief public health officer said changing the PCR test requirement was “actively being looked at” by her office. “We are looking at that quite carefully,” Dr. Theresa Tam said.

With files from Susan Delacourt

Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: ekeenan@thestar.ca