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Faraaz Bozia has his nose swabbed during a mandatory COVID-19 test at Toronto's Pearson airport on Feb. 1. Mr. Bozia was in Houston visiting relatives and was supposed to return on Jan. 19, but when he arrived at the airport, he was denied boarding because the lab performed the wrong kind of test.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As foreign COVID-19 variants spread more quickly, and vaccine shipments to Canada arrive more slowly (or not at all), the federal government is stepping up their restrictions on travel to make sure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.

If you’re planning to go abroad, the Prime Minister strongly suggests you don’t. And if you’re already overseas, you should be prepared for new measures when you come home, such as mandatory tests at the airport or hotel quarantines that you’ll have to pay for. Here’s what you need to know.


Which travel rules have changed?

Who has to be tested, when and where

The new rules: For new international arrivals at airports, federally mandated tests administered on site will decide how long you spend in quarantine and where (more on that later). Anyone entering at a land border crossing has to show a negative COVID-19 test result: While officials can’t stop Canadian citizens or permanent residents from entering, they can fine those who don’t show a negative test up to $3,000.

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The rules before: It’s still mandatory under federal law, as it has been since early January, for travellers to give a negative COVID-19 test to airlines before being allowed to board a flight into Canada. There’s a list of accepted test types and exempted groups, including children under 5, airline crews and some classes of essential workers. No foreign national with COVID-19 symptoms is allowed to fly.

Quarantine hotels in Canada

The new rules for travellers: As of Feb. 22, anyone arriving in Canada from abroad has to wait for the results of their airport test for up to three days at a supervised hotel that they’ll have to pay for in advance, at a cost Mr. Trudeau estimates at $2,000 a person. Those who test negative will be able to go home and complete the rest of their 14-day quarantine there, but anyone who tests positive will stay put while health officials check whether they have an infectious variant.

The new rules for hotels: Registered quarantine hotels have to be near the Montreal, Calgary, Toronto or Vancouver airports – the only places currently accepting international flights – and must offer free wireless internet, contactless meal delivery and a process to allow brief outdoor breaks.

The rules before: Since last March, all new arrivals have had to self-isolate at their destinations for 14 days, which sometimes meant infected people would end up with uninfected ones in households where they couldn’t isolate from one another. Hotel quarantining was allowed, but not mandatory as it is in jurisdictions such as New Zealand.

‘Sun destinations’ off limits

The new rules: Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat agreed to suspend flights to “sun destinations” such as the Caribbean and Mexico from Jan. 30 until at least April 30.

The rules before: Before variants were as widespread overseas as they are now, Canadians were generally free to leave the country as long as their destinations allowed them to enter, and as long as they had the means to get the right tests when coming back.

Which travel rules stay the same?

U.S. customs officers stand beside a sign saying that the border is closed in Landsdowne, Ont., this past March.

LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images

Who is a non-essential traveller

Tourism and cross-border shopping are definitely not essential, but some kinds of family-reunification travel are allowed. Most of the permitted types of travel are for Canadian citizens or permanent residents only: Foreign nationals can’t enter unless they’re protected workers or asylum claimants, or if they’ve applied to enter on other compassionate grounds.

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Who can cross the land border

The Canada-U.S. border is closed to all but essential travel, and some crossings may be completely shut by the Canada Border Services Agency to redirect its resources elsewhere.

Is interprovincial travel allowed?

That depends on where you live and where you’re going. Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. haven’t enacted legal measures to stop out-of-province arrivals, though their health officials strongly advise against non-essential travel in or out. In the Atlantic provinces and Arctic territories, authorities have barred entry from the rest of Canada except for work, school or other essential reasons. Those jurisdictions and Manitoba require newcomers to self-isolate at their destinations for 14 days. Here are the guidelines for Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon.

What are the penalties for breaking the travel rules?

A police officer walks through an empty Pearson airport terminal this past April.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Federal law: Penalties under the Quarantine Act can go as high as $750,000 or six months in jail. Most fines issued in the first seven months of the pandemic were between $275 and $1,275, and 77 people were fined nationwide, according to Public Health Agency of Canada data obtained by the CBC in October.

Provincial law: Many of the fines issued by local police have to do with physical distancing and non-essential businesses, but travel-related offenses, such as lying to contact tracers about where you or your friends have been, can also get you in trouble. For instance, a couple in Whitby, Ont., that had the British COVID-19 variant were charged in January under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act for allegedly not telling authorities they had been in contact with a traveller from Britain. The allegations have not been tested in court.

What about the Emergencies Act?

The federal travel restrictions so far have relied on the Quarantine Act, which governs international entry points to Canada such as land borders, sea ports and airports. Limiting movement within Canada (over and above what provinces have done on their own) would have been a more drastic step: Section 6 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to “move and take up residence in any province,” and “to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province,” so to limit these rights, the federal Emergencies Act might have been needed. None of the Trudeau government’s new rules require this act, the never-before-used successor to the War Measures Act that Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, used to controversial effect in the October Crisis of 1970. If the Emergencies Act is invoked in the future, a public inquiry has to be called at least two months after the emergency ends.

More reading

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

On vaccines

Federal and provincial vaccine rollout plans

How many vaccine doses have been administered in Canada so far?

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: A primer

Moderna vaccine: A primer

On variants

COVID-19 variants reveal evolution’s power to rearm pandemic

Ontario health officials race to avert ‘take off’ of new COVID-19 variants

On the pandemic

How many coronavirus cases are there in Canada, by province and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic


Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Evan Annett, Marieke Walsh, Laura Stone, Patrick White and The Canadian Press


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