The federal government on Wednesday announced that “fully vaccinated” Canadian travellers will no longer require mandatory COVID-19 hotel quarantine upon arrival in Canada. Come July, the exemption will apply to Canadian citizens and permanent residents flying back home, according to Intergovernmental Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
The government will allow fully vaccinated individuals, including Canadians, permanent residents and persons registered under the Indian Act and foreign nationals who are currently permitted to enter Canada, to do so “without the requirement to stay in government-authorized accommodations,” LeBlanc said during a COVID-19 press conference Wednesday.
“As Prime Minister Trudeau has said a number of times, we will adjust border measures gradually keeping the health of Canadians, first and foremost, in our sights,” LeBlanc said.
Federal health minister Patty Hadju said that these new measures are “being considered as the first step” in a phased approach to easing travel restrictions.
She said Canadians will need to have received their second dose “14 days or more prior to their arrival” home. The relaxation of rules does not apply to tourists.
“We’ll be watching carefully here in Canada and around the world as cases change and as vaccinations rates rise,” Hajdu said. “These metrics are very important factors.”
While the government will soon waive the need for Canadian air travellers to isolate in a pre-authorized hotel, travellers will still be required to take a COVID-19 test on arrival, and stay in isolation until the test comes back negative, Hajdu said.
That isolation plan would be up to them, meaning the waiting period could happen at home.
The Canadian government had barred non-essential travel, including the arrival of non-essential foreign nationals into the country in March 2020.
Later, the rules were tweaked to require negative COVID-19 PCR tests prior to and post arrival, followed by a period of mandatory quarantine. Fines were also imposed for flouting rules.
However, Minister LeBlanc said Wednesday that Canadians will now get “more of an idea about what they can expect in the weeks to come.”
“Vaccination is key,” he said. “So are the public health measures and so is the drop in case rate and in the number of hospitalizations.”
“These are indicators that we look at to decide which changes need to be made with the improvement of the situation in Canada,” he added.
Canadian businesses, especially those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying for Ottawa to ease restrictions as more and more people are vaccinated. But Hajdu made it clear that they would take things slow.
Asked about calls from businesses to lift restrictions starting on June 22, Hajdu said, “We do want to be cautious and careful on these next steps to be sure that we are not putting that recovery in jeopardy.”
Following the announcement, several travel agencies expressed their support while the air industry associations said more changes were needed for a full rebound to take shape.
“It’s definitely big positive news for the travel industry … it’s the No. 1 deterrent for people planning to travel right now,” Allison Wallace, a spokeswoman for the travel agency Flight Centre told The Canadian Press.
“With it being removed at some point in the very near future, we fully expect to see a lot more people travelling soon.”
The National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), which represents the country’s largest airlines, said in a statement Wednesday, “Unlike many other countries including all other G7 nations, the federal government has yet to provide a clear restart plan outlining when and how major travel and border restrictions will be removed.”
“As vaccination programs increase rapidly and jurisdictions around the world provide consumers and industry with a clear path forward, we must do the same,” president and CEO of NACC Mike McNaney said in the statement.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Airports Council said that the federal government needs to stop channelling all international flights into four Canadian airports.
Richard Vanderlubbe, president of tripcentral.ca, said that there needs to be a long term plan that gives travellers a sense of confidence.
“I think we need a vision from the government, a co-ordinated, well-thought through vision that says we may see outbreaks and variants, and how is that going to be handled?” Vanderlubbe said.
The decision was also lauded by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, but they too called for a “national reopening strategy, including a plan for border measures that includes clear metrics.”
In a statement emailed to Global News, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President & CEO, Perrin Beatty said that “Canadians are eager to see the finish line for this pandemic.”
“Today’s announcement of changes to eliminate quarantine hotels for fully vaccinated Canadians is a welcome move in the gradual resumption of international mobility, but much work still remains.”
With other countries moving “ahead with their reopening plans, it is critical for Canada to catch up,” Beatty added.
“As the Prime Minister leaves for the G7 meetings, we urge the government to accelerate work on digital vaccine certification to support safe international mobility.”
Experts too have welcomed this move towards “normalcy,” but have urged caution in doing so.
“This is the way to go,” infectious disease expert Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti told Global News Wednesday.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, also said that she was looking at ensuring Canada gets close to 75 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated before she would consider advising looser border restrictions for tourists and business travellers who aren’t Canadians or permanent residents.
She cautioned those who have received only one shot of COVID-19 vaccine to remain wary, especially with circulation of the Delta variant. “One dose of protection is not enough,” she said.
More to come…
–With files from Reuters and The Canadian Press