Travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been the easiest of experiences for many Canadians.
With border restrictions constantly changing, it has been challenging at times to keep up. However, with summer around the corner, many travel restrictions have dropped with declining COVID-19 activity, potentially making travelling more appealing despite massive delays at airports and at passport offices.
Ottawa has promised to fix those delays as the travel industry reboots following a two-year hibernation due to COVID-19.
Aside from that, here’s what you need to know about Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Starting June 20, unvaccinated Canadians can board a plane or passenger train in the country once again.
Since Oct. 30, 2021, those over the age of 12 who were not inoculated against COVID-19 were barred from boarding a plane or train, and most of them were no longer allowed to show a negative COVID-19 test as a substitute for vaccination.
The federal Liberals put the vaccine mandate in place last fall when the Delta variant remained the dominant variant of the virus, and vaccines were much more effective at preventing both transmission and infection than they are against the newer Omicron variants.
Ottawa’s move on June 15 came as the effectiveness of vaccine mandates faced questions in what could well be described as the Age of Omicron — the immune-evasive variant that has proved adept at infecting vaccinated people. The vaccines, however, remain effective at preventing severe illness.
Meanwhile, Ottawa announced on June 10 that it was temporarily ending random COVID-19 testing of incoming vaccinated passengers at airports between June 11 and June 30. Unvaccinated travellers are still required to be tested on-site during that time.
Come July 1, random testing will be removed from Canadian airports and will be performed at off-site locations for all travellers.
What’s already changed this year?
As the COVID-19 situation began to improve in Canada and abroad earlier this year, the federal government moved to modify its border restrictions that were tightened during the emergence of Omicron late last year.
On Feb. 15, the government announced it was dropping pre-entry PCR COVID-19 test requirements for fully vaccinated travellers. As of Feb. 28, negative rapid antigen or PCR test results were accepted to meet entry requirements.
Come April 1 however, fully vaccinated travellers no longer needed to show proof of any negative COVID-19 test upon entering Canada.
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On April 25, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated kids ages five to 11 accompanied by a fully vaccinated parent, step-parent, guardian or tutor no longer needed to complete a pre-entry COVID-19 test to enter Canada as well. Fully vaccinated travellers and children five to 11 also no longer needed to provide a quarantine plan upon entry.
In addition, the federal government no longer required fully vaccinated travellers entering Canada to wear masks in public spaces, monitor and report if they developed signs or symptoms, quarantine if another traveller in the same travel group showed signs or symptoms or tested positive, and maintain a list of close contacts and locations visited.
Though travel rules have eased, Ottawa has maintained it will be ready to revisit them if the COVID-19 situation worsens.
“Today’s announcement is possible because Canadians have stepped up to protect each other. We are now able to adjust our policy because we have followed consistently the best advice from public health authorities,” Dominic LeBlanc, minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities, said on June 14.
“Our job as a national government has always been to keep Canadians safe. If the situation takes a turn for the worse, we are prepared to bring back the policies necessary to protect Canadians.”
While the lifting of travel restrictions has been generating headlines, many do remain.
Despite the COVID-19 vaccine mandate being dropped, domestic travellers are still required to wear face masks on planes and interprovincial trains in Canada.
Fully vaccinated travellers coming to Canada from another country will still have to enter their proof of vaccination and travel details into the ArriveCAN app within 72 hours before boarding a plane, train or marine vessel.
If travellers entering Canada are unvaccinated, they are still subject to testing and quarantine measures.
Proof of a negative PCR or other molecular test is required within 72 hours of arrival in Canada, or a negative antigen test taken the previous day at a pharmacy, lab or other medical facility.
Unvaccinated Canadians must also quarantine for 14 days, and submit a plan for where they will quarantine through the ArriveCAN app. Another COVID-19 test must be taken on the eighth day of quarantine. Foreign nationals who don’t qualify as fully vaccinated will only be allowed to enter under specific circumstances.
Cruise ship passengers and crew members will still need to be fully vaccinated.
All passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must also provide proof of a negative PCR or other molecular test within 72 hours of boarding, or a negative antigen test taken the previous day at a pharmacy, lab or other medical facility.
That information must be submitted through the ArriveCAN app before boarding any cruise ship in Canada or one that will dock in Canada at any point during the cruise.
Though travel rules are changing in Canada, authorities advise travellers to be informed of what COVID-19 rules are in place in the destination they’re travelling to before leaving.