People who refuse COVID-19 vaccination will not be permitted to board domestic flights in Canada or travel interprovincially on trains unless they have medical exemptions, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, for the first time ruling out any accommodations for unvaccinated travellers.
Mr. Trudeau made his comments at a campaign stop in Vancouver, in response to a question about whether a re-elected Liberal government would offer alternatives for people who aren’t inoculated against the novel coronavirus. He said he would implement the new restrictions if he forms the next government.
“We are absolutely unequivocal on that because this is how we get through this pandemic,” he added.
The Liberals have made a proposed vaccine mandate a key issue in the federal election campaign. The policy was announced by the government two days before Mr. Trudeau called a snap election on Sunday, but it was initially unclear whether unvaccinated people without medical exemptions would be able to avoid restrictions, such as by taking rapid COVID-19 tests.
The party has provided few details on how the mandate will work or be enforced. It would apply to federal civil servants, federally regulated industries, domestic air travellers and interprovincial rail, bus and cruise passengers.
It appeared briefly that the Liberals would offer some form of accommodation to federal civil servants who refused a vaccine, possibly by allowing them to take rapid tests. But on Tuesday Mr. Trudeau said that information – which was contained in an online government memo – was inaccurate, and that there would be consequences for federal employees who don’t get immunized.
Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, but the pace of new inoculations has levelled off in recent weeks. So far, 73 per cent of eligible people (those aged 12 and over) have been fully vaccinated, according to the University of Saskatchewan-based website COVID-19 Tracker.
In total, 24.3 million Canadians have been fully vaccinated, leaving millions who are not protected against COVID-19 and therefore wouldn’t be allowed to board a plane or travel by rail interprovincially if the Liberals are re-elected.
On Aug. 13, before the start of the campaign, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the vaccine mandate for travellers would be in place “by no later than the end of October.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said his party would not impose mandatory vaccines on public servants or travellers. Rather, he said, under a Conservative government unvaccinated federal civil servants would be required to take daily COVID-19 tests and unvaccinated travellers would be required to present recent negative test results or pass rapid tests before getting on buses, trains, planes, or ships. Mr. O’Toole has also said he will require unvaccinated Conservative candidates to take daily tests.
Toronto-based Porter Airlines announced its new staff vaccination policy on Wednesday. It would require employees to be fully vaccinated or to present negative COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of the starts of their shifts. But the policy does not go as far as the Liberals’ proposal to mandate vaccinations for federally regulated employers or workers.
The airline said it supports the government’s plan to require full vaccination for air travellers. “Once specific requirements from the government regarding travel and federal airline employees are known, Porter will follow the guidelines,” Michael Deluce, Porter’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
WestJet, too, said in a statement that it was committed to working with the federal government, and that it was awaiting more details on the domestic air travel requirements. In a previous statement issued on Aug. 13, WestJet executive vice-president Mark Porter said the airline will adhere to the requirement for domestic travellers to be fully vaccinated or tested prior to departure, and suggested rapid testing could be used as an alternative to full vaccination.
“The airline group is advocating that rapid-antigen testing is an acceptable, accessible and affordable alternative for unvaccinated travellers,” the earlier statement said.
Air Canada did not comment on Mr. Trudeau’s remarks. It said in a statement last week that it is awaiting further details from the government about mandatory vaccinations for travellers. It called the proposed requirement a “welcome step.”
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