Canada looks to ease travel quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated people

OTTAWA – The federal government has laid out its plans to ease travel restrictions, saying the first step will be to allow people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — and who are permitted to enter the country — to forego mandatory hotel quarantine.

According to the federal health minister, travellers will need to be fully vaccinated 14 days or more before they arrive in Canada. The only vaccines that will be accepted will be those approved for use in Canada.

Travellers will also continue to be required to have a negative PCR test before boarding their flight to Canada, be  required to be tested upon arrival, and have a “suitable quarantine plan to wait for their day-one test results.”

People will be expected to quarantine until they get a negative result back.

“The requirement to stay in a government-authorize hotel is being lifted for people who currently have the right of entry to Canada. We’re not changing anything yet on the right of entry to Canada and the categories that are approved for entry right now will remain the same,” Minister Patty Hajdu said Wednesday. “The difference is that fully vaccinated travellers with a right of entry to Canada will be able to forego staying in a government-authorized hotel until such a time that they’ve received their negative day-one test. That’s the big change.”

She stressed the importance of staying vigilant and following public health guidelines, and encouraged Canadians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they can.

“We’ll be watching carefully here in Canada and around the world as cases change and as vaccination rates rise,” Hajdu said, adding these metrics “are very important factors as we move towards implementing changes on the border that we hope to have in place in early July.”

What proof of vaccination will be required is still unclear. An exact date for when changes could be brought it was also not provided.

Trudeau has been in talks with allies about the creation of an International vaccine passport, a topic that could be raised during the G7 meeting happening later this week.

Changes to Canada-U.S. border measures expected

This comes amid growing chatter that the Canada-U.S. border restrictions could also soon be eased for fully vaccinated people.

While reports suggest an announcement could come this Friday, Hajdu would not confirm any details.

“What we are saying is that it is better now to be slow and cautious, to use the best science and evidence, to be careful in our approach, so that we can have a sustained success rather than rapidly moving and seeing outbreaks or cases surging in a way that would result in further restrictions having to be applied,” the health minister said.

She said we’re “currently on a very good path,” and commended those administering vaccines and those who have received them for doing their part.

“But we do want to be careful and cautious on these next steps to make sure that we are not putting that recovery in jeopardy. In terms of the planning, that planning is under way. We have a variety of phases that we’re working on, and it will be based on … our own epidemiology — what the virus is doing within Canada — as well as what we see is happening with the virus externally,” she explained.

Hajdu pointed to many countries that are still struggling with the coronavirus, adding some have already had to amend their reopening plans.

“What we want to do is take things carefully and cautiously,” she said.

Whatever the plan is, it is expected to be a long, gradual process.

The pressure has been on for the government to reopen crossings, or at least provide a timeline and detail criteria for reopening to help businesses prepare.

On Tuesday, citing the public safety minister, the mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., said in a recent meeting with the mayors of other border cities, there were suggestions that the federal government could ease restrictions on June 22.

The current border restrictions between the two countries are set to expire on June 21.

The initial easing of restrictions would likely not trigger a flood of tourists heading south for the summer, given that only eight per cent of Canadians are currently fully vaccinated. That is compared to approximately 42 per cent of U.S. residents.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed this week that any decisions to ease travel restrictions would be “based on science.”

“We will have more announcements to make regarding measures that may be eased for those who have had both doses in the weeks to come,” he said Tuesday, adding two-dose vaccinations will be key.

“It’s very clear that even though one dose has allowed us to significantly protect Canadians to remove many of the pressures from our public health systems, it’s still an incomplete protection and we need people to get the full two doses of their vaccines. That’s why easing of restrictions will be focused on Canadians who are fully vaccinated.”

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Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department updated its travel advisory for Canada this week from ‘do not travel’ to ‘reconsider your travel,’

“We would make a decision about the Canada border based on the guidance of our health and medical experts,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “I’m sure that when that decision is made, we would communicate through diplomatic channels, but I don’t have anything to predict about the timeline.”

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada warned Tuesday that some of its members may be forced out of business if the restrictions wipe out another summer travel season.

Their concerns were echoed by the Tourism Industry Association of BC, which stressed the importance of providing Canadians and businesses a timeline in order for them to prepare.

“President Biden formally asked for a border reopening plan immediately after taking office, and so far, Canada has been slow to make any public progress,” said President and CEO Beth Potter in a statement.

The U.S. president is also facing pressure from border states to ease travel restrictions as soon as possible to provide relief to the U.S. travel industry.

Most non-essential travel across the land border has been restricted since March 2020, when measures were first brought in to slow the spread of COVID-19. The border restrictions have been extended on a monthly basis ever since.

Until any changes take effect, people travelling for non-essential reasons arriving in Canada both by ground and by air will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days. The hotel quarantine requirement is also still in effect.

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