Canada is in no hurry to drop its mask mandate for airplanes, trains and other federally-regulated public transportation, officials said Tuesday, despite the end of a similar rule in the U.S. this week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra both said the government will continue to follow the science when assessing the need for COVID-19-related orders.
“For now, there is no change in our regulation,” Alghabra told reporters in Calgary.
“We constantly consult our experts, and whenever the advice that we receive changes because the circumstances change, we will change our regulation. But for now, it is what it is.”
A federal judge in Florida on Monday struck down the Biden administration’s rule requiring masks be worn on airplanes, trains and other mass transit systems.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle wrote in her decision that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had failed to justify the mandate and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.
Within hours of the ruling, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said it will no longer enforce the mask requirement, and airports and major U.S. airlines quickly followed suit. Uber also announced U.S. passengers can ride without a mask, although the company is still recommending they wear one.
The CDC had recently extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 Omicron subvariant now responsible for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
Alghabra would not comment on Mizelle’s ruling, but said data continues to show that masks offer an additional layer of protection against COVID-19.
He added he was confident that Canadians would continue to follow the government’s regulations despite the potential for confusion among those travelling between Canada and the U.S.
“I take no joy in these regulations, except to know they are done to protect everyone’s health and safety,” he said.
Speaking in Dalhousie, N.B., later on Tuesday, Trudeau was more vague about the future of the mask mandate for travellers, saying the government is constantly re-evaluating scientific and expert advice to find the right “balance.”
“People want to stay safe, but they also want to get back to the things they love,” he said.
“The best way to do that is to lean in on what the science is telling us, what the experts are telling us, and make sure we’re moving forward in the right way.”
A Transport Canada official told Global News the U.S. court decision does not impact the Canadian mandate, which applies to domestic and international carriers for the duration of any flight “whether it is fully within Canada or not.”
The Canadian mandate requires travellers and employees wear masks inside airports and rail terminals and while on board planes and trains. Passengers must also be fully vaccinated with accepted vaccines before boarding any domestic or international flight departing most Canadian airports.
Travellers entering Canada by plane or through land borders must wear a mask in all public spaces for 14 days — despite that federal rule conflicting with most provinces that have dropped their own indoor mask mandates.
Anyone entering Canada must also keep track of all close contacts for two weeks and closely self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, according to Ottawa’s rules.
Public health officials, including Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, continue to recommend Canadians keep wearing masks in indoor settings as cases and hospitalizations creep upwards again.
Tam said last week that Canada is now in the sixth wave of the pandemic, which is also being fuelled by the BA.2 subvariant, adding masks should be worn whether local officials are “recommending it or not.”
— with files from Reggie Cecchini, Richard Zussman and the Associated Press