Transport Minister Omar Alghabra suggests there are no plans to remove the mandate requiring face masks on planes and trains, noting they’re a “minor inconvenience” to protect vulnerable Canadians.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Alghabra also said the government continues to work on getting the Canadian travel industry back to normal amid a surge in travel that he says beat forecasts that there wouldn’t be a return to more normal travel levels until 2025.
The ongoing surge has seen lengthy delays and long lines for passengers over recent weeks.
“Certainly we’re dealing with some unprecedented surge,” Alghabra said.
“There’s a lot of things that we’ve seen over the last two years that have been unpredictable. But what I want Canadians to know is that the government is acting and responding quickly and in an agile manner.”
When asked whether he planned to remove the federal mandate for face masks to be worn on planes and trains, a similar version of which was struck down in a controversial decision by an American judge in that country earlier this year, Alghabra pointed to the benefits masks offer in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
“Masks continue to prove to be an effective tool at reducing transmission. Our science and data have proven and continue to prove that,” he said.
“It is a minor inconvenience that we’re asking travellers to endure that offers meaningful protections to themselves and to the passengers sitting next to them in a small enclosed space. I’m thinking of an immune-compromised person or an elderly person who’s travelling.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, noted during a press conference on Friday that more subvariants of the highly contagious and immune-evasive Omicron variant are circulating.
The BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the virus, which are subvariants of Omicron, have been detected in Canada since May, and the BA.2.12 subvariant has been showing growth in the country since March.
“COVID-19 has shown us over the past few years that there may be more surprises ahead,” Tam said.
“The virus is still circulating in Canada and internationally, and factors such as viral evolution and waning immunity are anticipated to impact COVID-19 activity moving forward.”
Alghabra pointed to the continued spread of COVID-19 variants when asked whether the government is considering removing the proof of vaccination requirement in place for travellers entering Canada.
Last week, the government suspended the requirement for Canadians on domestic flights or trains, or boarding flights in Canada bound for international destinations.
He said the proof of vaccination requirement for international travellers coming to Canada remains an “important tool” to “minimize the odds of importing any type of variant.”
— with files from Global’s Teresa Wright.