By early July, fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who return home from travelling will be able to skip mandatory 14-day quarantine, as long as they test negative for COVID-19, the federal government announced Wednesday.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said rising vaccination rates and lower case counts are behind the planned easing of border restrictions. Dominic Leblanc, Minster of Intergovernmental Affairs, cautioned these changes will only be implemented if new COVID-19 case counts keep dropping and vaccination efforts “continues to go well.”
The government said, however, that only vaccines approved in Canada will be accepted when determining whether an incoming traveller counts as fully vaccinated. This list currently includes the vaccines made by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer and Moderna.
The approved list does not include Russian- or Chinese-made vaccines used elsewhere in the world, but Ottawa said it will continue evaluating other vaccines for possible approval.
Under the envisioned changes, returning travellers would be required to present a negative COVID-19 screening test taken prior to their return trip and also submit to a COVID-19 test upon arrival back in Canada.
The ministers did not provide a specific date for these new rules but only said early July.
The changes unveiled Wednesday would mean qualifying return travellers can self-isolate at home until their COVID test comes back. Once the traveller received confirmation that their return COVID test was negative, they would no longer be under isolation restrictions.
Only about eight per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated now – while 63 per cent have received one dose – but the number of double-dosed individuals is expected to rise quickly. Canada is expecting to have received 45 million to 46 million doses in total by the end of June. That’s enough to give all eligible Canadians their first shot and cover second shots for about one-third.
This would represent the first phase of easing of COVID-19-related travel restrictions in CAnada.
Canadians or permanent residents who are non-essential travellers are currently required to quarantine for 14 days upon their return in Canada. Travellers also face several testing requirements before and after travelling, and people who arrive by air have to stay at a quarantine hotel for up to three days. People who enter Canada by land are not required to go to a government-sanctioned hotel.
At least 25 countries, including France, Spain and Denmark have announced border reopening plans for vaccinated travellers from some countries. This list also includes jurisdictions in the Caribbean, such as the Bahamas or British Virgin Islands, and some in Central or South America, such as Belize, Guatemala and Ecuador. In many cases, countries require a negative COVID-19 test and official proof of vaccination and some allow unvaccinated travellers provided they test negative for COVID-19.
Provinces in Canada are divided over exactly when to relax travel restrictions and the Ontario government has recently blamed Ottawa for not doing enough to stop COVID-19 cases from entering Canada via “porous borders.”
It remains unclear how travellers entering Canada would prove that they were fully vaccinated.
The Canadian government is planning a phased approach to relaxing travel restrictions. Non-essential travel has been restricted for more than one year, including a ban on direct flights from other countries including Britain – now lifted – and another on direct flights from India and Pakistan.
American political and business leaders are increasing their pressure on Canada to provide a clear plan and timeline for normalizing travel across the Canada-U.S. border.
New York Congressman Brian Higgins, who is co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus and the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, said in a statement Tuesday that “it is clearly the beginning of the end” of the border shutdown.
“In conversations with government leaders on both sides of the border, we are learning plans are moving forward to provide for expanded crossing allowances. Action is long overdue,” he said in a statement.
A federally appointed panel recommended in a report, released on May 27, that Ottawa phase out quarantine hotels, end the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers and significantly shorten it for those who are partly vaccinated. The panel still recommended testing for all travellers, no matter their vaccination status.
Ottawa, at the time, said it would review the recommendations and consult with provinces and territories, but it gave no timeline for a change in policies and did not commit to enacting the expert advice.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Council of Canada, the Business Council of Canada and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, among others, are urging Ottawa and Washington to agree on mutually recognized credentials that travellers can present to demonstrate they are fully vaccinated – commonly referred to as a vaccine passport or digital vaccine certificate – and hammer out a plan to lay out clear guidelines for all forms of transport.
Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, predicts vaccination credentials will be a permanent feature of international travel and has said Ottawa needs to put together national standards for generating and updating this certificate.
Recent polling suggested many Canadians are still hesitant about opening the Canada-U.S. border. A survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies in early June found that 64 per cent of Canadian respondents oppose reopening the Canada-U.S. border this summer to allow American tourists into this country. Thirty-six per cent of those polled supported the idea. The study was conducted June 4 to June 6 and surveyed more than 1,500 adults in Canada.
Mayors of U.S. border towns have been particularly vocal in urging for a return to normal.
Christopher Rosenquest, mayor of Plattsburgh, N.Y., about 100 kilometres south of Montreal, said he can understand why Canadians may be apprehensive about opening the border. But his response to that concern is U.S. data showing low COVID-19 case rates.
“We do have a strong vaccination record here,” he said, adding that the U.S. should be sharing doses with Canadians. “Our tourism relies heavily on the Canadian dollar,” he said.
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