American citizens and permanent residents who want to come to Canada for non-essential reasons and are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to do so starting on Aug. 9.
Fully vaccinated travellers from other countries will be allowed to come as of Sept. 7.
Federal officials announced the policy change following weeks of pressure by American lawmakers and industry lobby groups, as well as from communities along the Canada-U.S. border who have been hurting economically since fears of the virus prompted policymakers to shut the border in March 2020.
As of Aug. 9, American travellers who are fully vaccinated will be able to come to Canada for discretionary travel without needing to quarantine upon arrival, and the government-approved hotel quarantine program will also be axed on that date.
Fully vaccinated travellers from other places in the world will be allowed to enter as of Sept. 7.
Both will still have to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test before arrival. But post-arrival, those fully vaccinated travellers will not need to do a post-arrival test as a matter of routine.
The exemption will be those who are randomly selected for a post-arrival test.
American travellers and those other countries will have to submit their proof of vaccination through the ArriveCan app — the same rule in place for returning Canadian travellers since last month.
“If they’re fully vaccinated, today’s announcement will make travel more efficient for all travellers,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, noting the border restrictions have been challenging for many.
Rising vaccination rates across Canada were cited by the Public Health Agency of Canada as the rationale for the decision to change border restrictions, and they will be contingent on case counts remaining low, said officials.
“We are not changing our measures at this time for individuals who are not fully vaccinated,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu. “We’ll be of course monitoring data at the border.”
She said that of the 63,000 fully vaccinated Canadian travellers who have re-entered the country without quarantine since restrictions eased last month, only about 10 have tested positive for COVID-19.
Fifty per cent of Canadians are now fully vaccinated, while the percentage of those with at least one dose is roughly 75 per cent, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The unvaccinated children of fully vaccinated adult travellers will also be exempt from doing a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Federal officials said on Monday that these children should avoid congregate settings but that there will not be formal rules or guidance issued on what that includes.
Earlier in July, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that children under the age of 12 — who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated — remain at risk of another outbreak of COVID-19.
The government also announced that international arrivals will be allowed at five more Canadian airports.
Until now, international arrivals have been restricted to the major airports in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. Going forward, those arrivals can land at the airports in Halifax, Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton as well.
The continued exemption from relaxing rules is India.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government is keeping in place a ban on arrivals of flights from that country as the rate of infection from the highly contagious Delta variant continues to rise.
Will the U.S. border rules change too?
It remains unclear, however, whether the United States will reciprocate with allowing fully vaccinated Canadian travellers to enter more easily.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he has informed his U.S. counterpart that this decision was coming, but that American authorities haven’t yet decided whether to lift their restrictions.
“They have not yet made a decision, they anticipate their current measure will likely be rolled over on July 21,” Blair said. “They are obviously considering additional measures and data but at the present time they have not indicated a plan to make any changes in their current host of restrictions that are in place.”
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said that decision will be up to Americans.
“We hope that at the right moment the American government will be able to lift some of the border restrictions in place. However, we respect the decision is theirs to make,” he said.
“We expect that on July 21 they will maintain current measures at the border.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not offer any update on whether the government there plans to lift restrictions for Canadian travellers, when contacted by Global News.
Biden administration spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that officials there were not prepared to commit to a reopening for Canadians.
“We look and are guided by our own medical experts,” Psaki said.
“I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention.”
The U.S. is currently in the midst of a resurgence of COVID-19 as vaccination efforts stall.
Infection rates south of the border have doubled as the Delta variant takes hold among unvaccinated Americans, and as anti-vaccination lawmakers continue to urge followers to refuse shots.
Canada has now surpassed the U.S. for the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated.