Canada’s border measures are about to loosen. Here’s what you should know

Click to play video: 'Some COVID-19 travel measures being eased at border'
Some COVID-19 travel measures being eased at border
WATCH: Some COVID-19 travel measures being eased at border – Feb 28, 2022

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, travelling is about to become less restrictive for Canadians as health officials say the peak of Omicron has subsided across the country.

After officials vowed changes to border rules earlier in the month, the new rules announced in Ottawa by federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos officially come into effect on Monday. 

“It is time to adjust our approach,” Duclos said during the announcement on Feb. 15.

Bookings on the rise

Airlines and travel agents say bookings are on the rise as Omicron has begun to recede.

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Reservations have been ticking upward over the past month, according to Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau.

Bookings at travel agencies Flight Centre and rose to between 40 and 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the days leading up to last week’s federal announcement, and towered over numbers from the same time last year, when Caribbean flights were halted.

Click to play video: 'New rules spur more travel'
New rules spur more travel

NDP critic for transport Taylor Bachrach said these changes have been “welcomed by Canadians.”

“We are happy that these measures were reviewed. It’s important that the government’s measures and restrictions that are in place are based on science and are effective,” he said when the new measures were announced.

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Where have past variants of concern gone?

However, some think the new measures don’t go far enough for land borders.

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On Friday, Niagara Falls, Ont., Mayor Jim Diodati called on the federal government to further lift restrictions during a press conference, noting the economy in border towns is suffering because of testing requirements.

“Travel restrictions have become obsolete,” Diodati said.

“There is no reason for there to be any kind of restrictions at this time. We are calling on the government to drop all rules at the border and follow the science.”

So, what’s really changing?

Firstly, the government has lifted its recommendation for Canadians to avoid travel for non-essential purposes. This means the country’s travel health notice will be moved from Level 3 to Level 2.

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Vaccinated Canadians now also have the option of taking rapid antigen tests instead of a PCR test as previously required – although this option is still available. Rapid tests are often cheaper and easier to access.

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Rapid tests must be taken the day prior to a traveller’s scheduled flight or arrival at a land border or marine port.

All travellers must also be required to continue to submit mandatory information on ArriveCAN, including their proof of vaccination.

Travellers are seen at the departure hall of Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Feb. 15, 2022. Canada is easing the on-arrival test requirements for fully vaccinated travellers starting Feb. 28. Photo by Liang Sen/Xinhua via Getty Images

Children under the age of 12 who are travelling with fully vaccinated adults will now also be exempt from quarantining. This means they will no longer need to wait 14 days before returning to school or daycare.

For unvaccinated travellers, the rules don’t change. They will still be required to be tested on arrival and on their eighth day in the country, and will also need to quarantine for 14 days.

Foreign nationals who aren’t vaccinated will not be permitted to enter the country unless they meet a short list of exemptions.

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More airports will also be able to receive international flights as of Feb. 28, according to federal Minister of Transportation Omar Alghabra. Before then, only 18 Canadian airports were allowed to accept these flights.

In addition to international airports, Windsor, Ont., London, Ont., Fort McMurray, Alta., and Moncton, N.B., will begin accepting international flights.

Cruise travel remains at a Level 4 advisory as the government warns citizens to “avoid all cruises.”

It’s still important to be aware changes could be reassessed in the event of future variants as the virus will likely continue evolving, health officials said during their announcement on the latest measures.

“All measures are subject to re-evaluation,” Duclos said.

“It’s important to note that if the epidemiological situation continues to improve, if hospitalizations continue to diminish and Canadians continue to get their booster shots, further easing of travel restrictions could be considered in the coming weeks.”

Where can I get a rapid test while abroad and how much will I pay?

This will depend on where you travel.

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For example, in England, all COVID-19 restrictions have been scrapped by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This means free universal testing will no longer be available as of April 1 in the United Kingdom.

However, rapid tests can still be purchased in the U.K. for around £35.00. You can order them online, though they will take at least three days to arrive. Some pharmacies in England will also offer rapid tests along with certain community collection points.

In some countries, like Mexico, you can get tested right at the airport. According to the Cancun International Airport, rapid tests cost roughly US$13. If you’re travelling to the U.S., PCR and rapid COVID-19 tests are widely available for free.

For those who choose to take a rapid test, it will need to be administered by a lab, health-care entity or telehealth service and must be approved by the country in which it was purchased.

This means you cannot administer the rapid test yourself.

How does that impact existing and future insurance coverage?

Insured travellers will be covered if they get sick with COVID-19 while they’re away, according to Marius Zoican, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Toronto.

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This is because insurance companies have added the virus to their policies again after removing it when Ottawa rolled out its travel warning in mid-December 2021.

“The rules are going to be a bit more relaxed if you get COVID while you are abroad,” Zoican said, adding the latest rules will make things easier for those trying to get away.

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If tourists test positive they will still have to wait 10 days before returning to Canada, a cost they can hedge with trip interruption coverage that covers accommodations, airfare costs and other expenses.

However, there won’t be any coverage for cancelling a trip because of COVID-19, Zoican added. This is because insurers have continued to leave out pandemic coverage from their offerings. This means payments for resort packages or short-term rentals could be lost should border closures resume.

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What happens if I test negative while abroad?

Testing negative while abroad is required before returning to Canada.

If taking a rapid test, travellers will be required to test negative one day before returning to Canada.

For PCR tests, travellers will be required to provide proof of a negative result taken within 72 hours of returning to the country.

What happens if I'm randomly selected for a PCR test upon arrival and find out I'm positive?

Although PCR tests are no longer a requirement, travellers may still be randomly selected to take one upon arriving at the border. While awaiting results, fully vaccinated travellers will no longer have to quarantine.

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If a traveller tests positive they will be required to isolate for 10 days. ArriveCAN requires Canadians to enter their quarantine plan into the program in case they test positive.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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