After more than two years of being in place, Canada’s COVID-19 border rules are coming to an end, the federal government announced Monday.
The Liberal government officially announced the changes after Global News and other media reported last week that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed off on them.
As of Oct. 1 all travellers, regardless of citizenship, will no longer have to submit public health information through ArriveCAN, provide proof of vaccination, undergo testing, quarantine or isolate, and monitor and report if they develop signs or symptoms of COVID-19 upon arriving in Canada.
Furthermore, travellers will no longer be required to undergo health checks for travel on air and rail, or wear masks on planes and trains.
“The results of border tests carried about at the Public Health Agency (of Canada) over the past months have indicated that importations of COVID cases and its variant no longer influence in a significant way the evolution of the pandemic in Canada,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters in French at a news conference in Ottawa.
“The higher level of cases of hospitalizations in Canada are largely explained by the domestic transmission of the virus and the rate of vaccination today.”
The decision to let the current measures expire on Sept. 30 as planned was made last Thursday, a senior government source told Global News last week.
At that time, the federal government was still deciding whether to maintain the requirement for passengers to wear face masks on trains and airplanes, the source said.
The removal of border measures has been facilitated by several factors, including modelling that shows Canada has largely passed the peak of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5-fuelled wave, Canada’s vaccination rates, lower hospitalization and death rates, as well as the availability and use of boosters, rapid tests, and treatments for COVID-19, Ottawa said in a news release.
Throughout the year, the federal government has loosened COVID-19 rules at the border as the pandemic eased in Canada. The measures were changed as provinces and territories lifted protective measures given the situations in their communities. However, Ottawa was under pressure throughout the summer to further ease requirements, and drop ArriveCAN, as major delays clogged airports due to a sudden rush in travel demand.
Although the masking requirement is being lifted, all travellers are strongly recommended to wear masks during their journeys.
“The Government of Canada will maintain the ability to reestablish certain border measures, should they be required in the future to protect Canadians from the importation of new variants of concern or other emerging public health threats,” Duclos said.
Rules for cruise ships are also being lifted, and travellers will no longer be required to have pre-board tests, be vaccinated, or use ArriveCAN. A set of guidelines will remain to protect passengers and crew, which will align with the approach used in the United States.
“Individuals are reminded that they should not travel if they have symptoms of COVID-19. If travellers become sick while travelling, and are still sick when they arrive in Canada, they should inform a flight attendant, cruise staff or a border services officer upon arrival,” officials said in a news release.
“They may then be referred to a quarantine officer who will decide whether the traveller needs further medical assessment as COVID-19 remains one of many communicable diseases listed in the Quarantine Act.”
With the end of COVID-19 border rules now only a few days away, officials on Monday signalled their focus on tackling COVID-19 spread within Canada.
As of Sept. 17, Canada has reported more than four million cases of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, federal data shows. At 82 per cent of the entire population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“If anyone has doubts as to whether COVID-19 still exists, I would invite that person to visit the hospital anywhere in Canada. We have between 4,000 and 5,000 people hospitalized every day with COVID-19. That puts a very heavy burden on the hospital system,” Duclos said.
“We also know that health care workers are very tired. They are exhausted, they have left in large numbers, and worryingly, many of them think of leaving an even larger numbers over the next month in Canada.”
Duclos also urged Canadians to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccination, as immunity from both vaccination and infection wanes over time. Since Aug. 1, just two per cent of the entire population received a booster shot, federal data shows. That data excludes British Columbia, Quebec and Prince Edward Island as information was not available.
“I invite everyone, every Canadian listening to us to do as well as we’ve done with two doses,” he said.
“If we succeed in doing this, we’ll reduce very significantly the burden on hospitals and, importantly, on health-care workers leading to the end of the fall and early winter.”
— with files from The Canadian Press