Ottawa is easing border restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers, who soon will no longer be required to take a molecular COVID-19 test before arriving in the country, and dropping its recommendation that Canadians avoid international travel for non-essential purposes.
In addition, travellers won’t have to quarantine at home while awaiting the results of random polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests taken upon arrival in Canada.
The travel-advisory guidance was issued in March, 2020, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was dropped in October last year before being brought back in December as the Omicron variant began to wash over Canada.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, alongside several ministers, told a news conference Tuesday that the new travel policies, which take effect Feb. 28, have been possible because the peak of the Omicron variant has passed and that, after two years of following public-health measures, Canadians know what to do to stay safe. Mr. Duclos added that Canada can move away from tough border restrictions because it has better mechanisms to deal with the pandemic.
“These tools include the strong surveillance system, a highly vaccinated population, continued access to vaccines, access to therapeutics both in and outside our hospital system and increasing access to rapid tests.”
More changes to travel rules could be in the offing. “We will be reassessing [the rules] in the following weeks and months,” Mr. Duclos said. “It is important to note that if the epidemiological situation continues to improve, if hospitalizations diminish, and if Canadians continue to get their booster shots, further easing of travel restrictions could be considered in the coming weeks.”
He said that “if the situation warrants, the testing exemption for short trips, under 72 hours, for instance, could be reinstated.”
Under the new policies, Mr. Duclos said travellers will have the option of using either a negative rapid antigen test, which are less expensive and produce results more quickly, or a molecular test to meet pre-entry requirements.
He also said children under the age of 12 who are not yet fully vaccinated, and travelling with fully vaccinated adults, will not have to wait and self-isolate before attending school, daycare or camp.
Unvaccinated Canadians can take a rapid test before they board a plane, but will need to take a molecular test on arrival as well as eight days later, and isolate for 14 days.
Foreign nationals are still barred from entering Canada unless inoculated with approved COVID-19 vaccines.
Tuesday’s news conference also included an announcement that as of Feb. 28, the Transport Canada notice that restricts where international passenger flights can arrive in Canada will expire.
As a result, international flights carrying passengers will be allowed to land at all remaining Canadian airports designated by the Canada Border Services Agency to receive international passenger flights.
“This is great news for communities like Windsor, London, Fort McMurray, Moncton and many others. By receiving international flights, this will support local tourism, create good jobs and grow our economy,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.
Canada’s travel sector has been calling on the federal government to remove COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers.
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada said in a statement that it was encouraged by the move to end PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers.
“We have been advocating heavily for this change on behalf of our members as well as the tourism industry at large; especially in recent weeks as the pandemic, vaccination status and available science have evolved,” Beth Potter, president and CEO of the industry association, said in a statement.
Suzanne Acton-Gervais, interim president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest air carriers, said the announcement is a step forward for travellers, the aviation industry and the Canadian economy.
“In recent months, Canada’s on-arrival and predeparture testing requirements have become increasingly complex for Canadians to navigate. Providing flexibility in acceptable predeparture tests will provide comfort to the many Canadians who are keen to travel once again, make new memories, and be reunited with loved ones,” Ms. Acton-Gervais said in a statement.
The council represents Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation LP and WestJet.
Perrin Beatty, the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, offered support for the development.
“As Canada enters a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is definitely time for the federal government to ease travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers. Restoring the health of Canada’s travel and tourism sector is critical for our country’s economic recovery,” Mr. Beatty said in a statement.
Several provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and, most recently, Ontario have announced a relaxation of restrictions imposed during the pandemic as coronavirus infection rates fall.
Protesters have blocked border crossings and taken over the centre of Ottawa for weeks demanding that governments eliminate pandemic restrictions. Provincial premiers have denied they are loosening restrictions to appease them, saying instead that the limits are no longer needed to contain COVID-19.
On Monday, MPs defeated a Conservative Party motion calling on the government to table a plan for the lifting of all federal mandates and restrictions by the end of the month. During debate on the motion, the government said federal decisions would be guided by science. The 185-to-151 vote saw the NDP vote with the Liberals to defeat the motion, which was supported by the Bloc Québécois.
Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman said, in a statement, that the announcement was an overdue step forward, but already out of date.
“Canada lags its allies on restrictions. The government must present a plan in line with the growing global consensus to remove all restrictions and testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers,” she said.
NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said in a statement, that Tuesday’s announcement clarifies travel for Canadians, meeting their needs for a plan on safe travel.
“Mandatory PCR testing on arrival was creating real frustration for Canadians who, despite being fully vaccinated, were stuck in quarantine due to delays getting their results,” he said.
With reports from The Canadian Press
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