Travel restrictions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, including mask mandates, came to an end on Saturday as the last remaining border measures officially ceased to be in effect.
And some travellers say they’re meeting the changes with mixed feelings of relief and concern as they look toward an uncertain winter and signs that case counts are on the rise.
Federal officials announced earlier this week that a cabinet order affecting mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine of international travellers would not be renewed as the new month began.
That means travellers to Canada no longer need to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, while wearing a mask on planes and trains is now optional.
British Columbia residents Joanne and Ted Parker say they would have preferred to see the rules stay in place for masks, which are still recommended.
“I think they’re an excellent protection,” Joanne Parker said while waiting at Pearson International Airport, just west of Toronto.
“And if one person wears them it’s not that helpful, but if everybody wears them it’s really helpful.”
But she said she’s already come to terms with the likelihood that mask rules are gone for good.
Earlier this week, when the couple flew into Pearson, they noticed some people were flouting the restrictions days before they were lifted, including one fellow passenger who she said ignored a flight attendant’s request to keep their mask on.
“I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t going to say anything because I thought at the end of the week it’s going to be OK anyway,” she said.
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Ted Parker suggested there were “plusses and minuses” to lifting the final COVID-19 travel restrictions. He hopes one of the upsides will be fewer airport delays as people entering Canada no longer need to fill out the ArriveCan app and are no longer subject to random mandatory tests for the disease.
“When you just look around, just casual observation says people are not wearing masks,” he said, adding he remains concerned about new variants of COVID-19.
“After two and a half years, I think people are tired of it. They want to get onto some semblance of normal.”
Another traveller at Pearson said her biggest concern wasn’t the change in masking rules or the elimination of random mandatory tests for the virus, but rather the stories she’s heard of people losing their luggage for days.
That’s why Mary Bertani packed a small carry on bag for her flight to New York instead of her usual checked luggage.
“I thought, ‘I’m not letting go of my stuff,'” said the Pickering, Ont., resident.
As for COVID-19 precautions, she said she was not concerned for herself, noting she planned to wear a mask and had been vaccinated against the virus.
In announcing the end of the restrictions, federal ministers said the latest wave of COVID-19 has largely passed and travel-related cases aren’t having a major impact.
But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos warned restrictions could be brought back again if they are needed.
People coming to Canada who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer need to isolate upon arrival, and anyone who entered the country in the last two weeks and was subject to quarantine or testing was off the hook on Saturday.
Inbound travellers do not need to fill out the controversial ArriveCan app, although they can still use it to fill out their customs declarations at certain airports.
Brian Feeney flew into Toronto from Boston on Saturday morning and estimated about half the passengers on his flight were masked.
He chose to stay masked on the flight because he was seated close to people, he said, though he doffed the mask once he reached the airport.
“I think it’s a pretty good thing the rules are changing,” he said.
“It’s somebody’s choice whether they wear a mask or not.”