With COVID-19 numbers dipping across the country and several provinces gradually easing back to normalcy, many Canadians have been wondering when it will be OK for unvaccinated people to travel freely once again. Putting a rest to this notion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday clarified that it is “not going to happen for quite a while.”
“We need to continue to ensure that the safety of Canadians, of all the sacrifices that so many people have made over the past many, many months are not for nothing,” Trudeau said at a press conference in British Columbia.
“If you are wondering when unvaccinated tourists can come to Canada, I can tell you right now that’s not going to happen for quite a while.”
The prime minister’s comments come after the government this week waived off quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated citizens. However, non-essential foreign travelers are still not allowed to enter Canada despite pressure from the country’s hurting tourism sector.
The United States does not have vaccine requirements for visitors. However, for Canada, talks about lifting border restrictions at this point are focused entirely on fully vaccinated travellers, Trudeau said.
“The next step we’ll be looking at what measures we can allow for international travellers who are fully vaccinated,” he said. “We will have more to say in the coming weeks.”
Trudeau has previously said authorities are looking closely at domestic vaccination rates, the spread of variants of concern, and how the rest of the world deals with COVID-19.
He said the focus right now is “on supporting Canadians and continuing to go through this pandemic and continuing to recover our economies.”
“I know how difficult this past year and a half has been for our tourism sector,” he said, acknowledging how trying the pandemic has been for small and large businesses alike.
“We were there for them and we will continue to do everything we can to reopen everything safely and rapidly,” he added.
Meanwhile, vaccinated Canadians are still confused about vaccine protocols they may face on their flight or cruise or at their resort or hotel should they decide to go on vacation. According to travel agents, some Canadians who are fully vaccinated are looking for assurances that their fellow travellers will be too.
“There’s a group of travellers that are just so happy to be able to travel again that they’re not going to be as concerned,” said Allison Wallace, Vancouver-based spokeswoman for Flight Centre Travel Group. “But there’s definitely a portion of the population that’s very concerned.”
Already, some tourism operators have come up with their own protocols to give vaccinated travellers peace of mind.
Norwegian Cruise Line announced this spring it would require full proof of vaccination from travellers before they board. Royal Caribbean has taken a different approach by establishing a two-tiered system on one of its ships this summer. Passengers who can’t provide proof of vaccination will not be allowed to access certain areas of the ship, like the spa and casino, and will also have to eat at different times than fully vaccinated passengers.
Wallace said enforcing separate rules for different categories of passengers could prove problematic.
“We’ve already seen people in just regular businesses and stores who don’t think they have to abide by the rules. I think you’re going to have a lot of confrontations and there’s going to be a lot of frustration,” she said.
Still, Wallace said travellers are likely to encounter vaccine-based privileges and restrictions for a while, at least until the tourism industry recovers from the economic blows of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The industry as a whole understands that confidence is key. And if there’s big outbreak at a resort or a cruise line, the negative connotations that go along with that . . . can really hurt businesses,” she said.
Ken Stewart, owner of Crowfoot Travel Solutions in Calgary, said he is facing a lot of questions about travelling with children who are still too young to have their vaccinations. He said the answers vary depending on the destination, and he can usually only provide a “best guess” as to what the situation will be next month, or even next week.
“Things change on a daily basis, and sometimes I’m as confused as my clients,” Stewart.
However, one thing is clear, Stewart said, and that is in the immediate future, travelling is going to be much easier for those who are vaccinated than those who aren’t.
Lesley Keyter, founder and chief executive of The Travel Lady Agency in Calgary, agrees.
“I heard a story yesterday about some people, unvaccinated, who headed off to Greece on holiday and then couldn’t get into any restaurants because they had to show proof of vaccination,” she said. “You have to be so careful checking all the requirements before you leave. It’s all about the fine details.”
— With files from The Canadian Press