Feds aim to end hotel stay, 14-day quarantines for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers in July
OTTAWA -- Fully-vaccinated Canadians will be able to travel outside of the country without having to self-isolate for 14 days or having to stay in a quarantine hotel upon arrival, starting as early as July.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced the first step in a “phased” easing of the federal government’s pandemic border measures on Wednesday, more than a year after Canada restricted non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move follows calls to end mandatory hotel quarantines and permit fully vaccinated Canadians to move around more freely.
However, seeing these changes become a reality will depend on whether there are any concerning fluctuations in new case counts and vaccination rates, as well as pending consultations with provinces and territories.
“These metrics are very important factors as we move towards implementing the changes on the border that we hope to have in place in early July,” said Hajdu. “If we can keep our communities safe and free of COVID, then we will not have to return to measures that are so difficult for everyone.”
According to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases has dropped below 1,800 for the first time since the fall of 2020. And, as Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced Wednesday, Canada is expected to receive at least 55 million COVID-19 vaccines by the end of July.
Hajdu said this first step in gradually easing travel restrictions comes after more than a year of sacrifices from Canadians who stayed home and cancelled important travel plans to abide by public health guidelines.
In an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play, Hajdu defended the timing of this change rolling out.
“We want to be absolutely sure that we are ready to commence this next stage of international travel we've seen, you know, the virus behave in ways that we wouldn't have been able to predict a year and a half ago,” she said.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
Travellers who have completed their vaccination regime at least 14 days prior to their arrival in Canada will be who the government consider fully vaccinated.
Eligible travellers will be those who received a COVID-19 vaccine that has been authorized for use in this country, so: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, even though none of those single-shot J&J doses have been administered in this country to-date.
These travellers will still have to show a negative pre-departure PCR test, and will have to take a COVID-19 test upon arriving in Canada. Once in Canada, returning travellers will still need self-isolate until their most recent test result comes back negative.
The easing of restrictions will apply to any Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. It remains to be clarified how these changes will be applied to fully-vaccinated families travelling with unvaccinated children.
In the Power Play interview, Hajdu said generally that the details are still being sorted out, but travelling families will not be separated.
The federal government is currently discussing with the Canada Border Services Agency about rolling out this easing of restrictions.
VACCINE PASSPORT TALKS ONGOING
While the requirement for being able to travel without the full two-week quarantine is contingent on vaccination status, the federal government says it’s still working with the provinces about what the proof of vaccination documentation will look like.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said that it is possible that these so-called vaccine passports may not be ready by the time the federal government is ready to allow fully-vaccinated Canadians to reenter without full quarantines, but that border agents will have temporary guidance on what proof of vaccination will be accepted.
Hajdu said that the ArriveCan app will play a role, suggesting Canadians will be asked to upload their proof of vaccination to that platform.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalled that changes were coming to Canada’s border measures for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, saying that a full vaccine regime is required to ensure more fulsome protection.
The plans come just prior to his first international trip since the outset of the pandemic, but the move will not impact his travel plans. The prime minister has not yet indicated whether and when he’ll receive his second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine after receiving his first AstraZeneca shot in April. His delegation will be isolating after returning from the multi-stop trip to Europe.
NO TIMELINE FOR TOURISTS
The federal government says that it’ll be some time still before tourists from other countries, or Canadians without a full vaccine regime, will be able to travel as freely.
With more people becoming fully vaccinated both in Canada and abroad, the Canadian government is under pressure to start to talk about how and when restrictions could change.
Talks are ongoing with the U.S. about how specific border measures could be eased, given the increasing rates of vaccinations and decreasing virus spread in both countries.
Tam told reporters Wednesday that the target of 75 per cent of eligible Canadians being fully vaccinated remains the metric for a more fulsome reopening of international travel.
“Having the full course of vaccine is extremely important,” she said.
Hajdu said she is aware of the calls from the tourism sector to ease up on travel restrictions. She said many other businesses and sectors have suffered from the economic lockdowns as a result of surging cases and the federal government doesn’t want to put the current positive indicators in jeopardy by opening too much, too soon.
“It is better now to be slow and cautious… to be careful in our approach so we can have a sustained success,” said the health minister.