Canada lifting restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers in early July

OTTAWA — Canada will be lifting most international travel restrictions for Canadians, permanent residents, and certain foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated, allowing those eligible to travel to do so with more ease, starting July 5, starting in early July.

Effective July 5 at 11:59 p.m. EDT travellers who are currently able to enter Canada under the existing rules will be able to do so without having to self-isolate for 14 days, taking a test on day eight, or having to stay in a quarantine hotel upon arrival, if they are fully immunized against COVID-19. 

“As we’ve told Canadians all along, easing measures at the border will happen as we see our communities increasingly become safe,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu in announcing the new plan on Monday. “If you are planning to travel internationally this summer, remember to check the requirements of the country that you’re visiting.”

The change does not apply to fully vaccinated non-citizens who are looking to visit for non-essential reasons, and for any Canadian traveller who is not fully-vaccinated, the existing suite of travel restrictions will remain in effect.

Monday’s announcement left several key questions outstanding about how these policies may impact unique situations—such as Quebecers who have had COVID-19 and have been told they only need to receive one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The government said it’ll continue to monitor the rollout of the eased restrictions and the evolving science.

Ultimately, Canada Border Services officers will be responsible for reviewing and considering each travellers’ circumstances.

“It is the travellers responsibility to plan ahead, to understand their obligations, and to ensure that they are eligible. They should do this before heading to the border,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said.

WHAT VACCINE PROOF IS NEEDED?

In order to be considered fully vaccinated, travellers will have had to have received a full series of a vaccine, or a combination of vaccines that have been authorized by Health Canada — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, and Johnson & Johnson — at least 14 days prior to entering the country. Officials briefing reporters on the new procedures said that the vaccinations do not have to be administered in Canada, and the list of applicable vaccines could change over time.

Proof of vaccination will be required in order to be exempted from the quarantine measures, and travellers are being asked to either have a paper or digital copy of their vaccination documentation. They will also have to submit proof of their vaccination as well as COVID-19-related information into the federal government’s ArriveCAN app before arriving in Canada.

This is the first step towards a vaccination passport, and the onus of using a digital program prompted questions to officials about the potential limitations this poses for those who are unable to use the technology. Officials suggested that if travellers need assistance they could ask a friend or family member for help sorting out the digital requirements, but in “exceptional circumstances,” accommodations can be made to not penalize certain individuals.

The government is requiring all travellers — whether arriving by land or air — to now disclose vaccination information at the border including vaccination status and the timing and brand of vaccine received, they say to help identify “vaccine-escape variants.”

Among the information the federal government is making mandatory to submit through the app: travel and contact details; quarantine plans, and a COVID-19 symptom self-assessment.

People are being told to download the “most up-to-date” version of the ArriveCAN app being released on July 5. Entering fraudulent information into the app will result in fines of up to $750,000 or six months in prison.

Asked what privacy and data-protections are being considered to confirm vaccination statuses, Blair said there is an ability within the app to verify documentation, but didn’t clarify if that’s done through cross-referencing existing databases.

WHAT RESTRICTIONS REMAIN?

The requirement to be asymptomatic remains, as do the mandatory pre-departure and on-arrival molecular testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers. Travellers will have to have an adequate quarantine plan in place in case border agents determine a period of self-isolation is required, and will have to keep copies of their test results for 14 days upon arrival.

If a fully vaccinated traveller does test positive they will be required to follow local public health guidance and quarantine requirements.

In situations where unvaccinated children are travelling with fully vaccinated parents, they will not have to stay in a hotel, but will have to follow the testing requirements, if applicable depending on their age, and isolate for 14 days after coming into Canada.

In this situation, federal officials said the parents will be able to leave the house during their children’s isolation, despite the oft-repeated concern that fully vaccinated people could still transmit the virus.

Asked to explain this approach, Hajdu cited advice from experts, but stated that “undoubtedly this will be challenging for families who want to travel,” Hajdu said.

This first step in a “phased” border reopening changes nothing for travellers who have yet to receive a vaccine, or who have just had one shot. These travellers will still have to abide by the full suite of existing travel measures, including the three-night stay in a quarantine hotel and a 14-day self-isolation, despite a federal panel calling for the quarantine hotel program to cease.

Defending the move to keep the hotel quarantine sites up and running despite what the government’s own experts have advised, Hajdu cited the Delta variant as a factor as well as a desire to avoid a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections if reopening is done too rapidly.

The government also announced Monday that in this first step of reopening, international commercial flights will continue to be funneled through the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, Calgary International Airport and Vancouver International Airport.

WHEN WILL BORDERS OPEN FOR ALL?

There has yet to be any new information or timelines presented about when Canada’s international and U.S. travel restrictions will be further eased, with the latest extension in effect until July 21. The government continues to “strongly advise” that Canadians avoid non-essential travel outside of the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is currently in self-isolation following his recent trip to Europe for the G7 Summit and other high-level meetings with world leaders.

The move to begin gradually easing border restrictions comes as Canada hit a key vaccination milestone over the weekend, seeing 75 per cent of those eligible having one shot and 20 per cent fully vaccinated.

Blair said Monday that while the border restrictions—introduced 15 months ago early in the COVID-19 pandemic—were never going to be permanent, a higher rate of vaccinations both in Canada and abroad will be needed before throwing out all international travel limits is safe.

“We recognize that people are anxiously awaiting to reopen the border,” Blair said. “The results of data collected in the first phase, such as the test results of vaccinated travellers will also help to help us to determine the timing of future border measures. Discussions are ongoing with provincial territorial, and international partners, with the aim of allowing for the essential travel of fully vaccinated foreign nationals into Canada, in the coming months.”

WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN?

Responding to the news, infectious diseases expert Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti expressed frustration over the plans around children, saying it doesn’t make sense.

“If the purpose of this is to try to prevent or at least slow variants from coming in, it’s not going to work very well. It’s a lot of resources for something that doesn’t have a lot of yield,” he said in an interview on CTV News Channel.

Conservative MP and health critic Michelle Rempel Garner posted her initial reaction on social media, questioning why “no metrics or science” was presented as part of the revised plan.

“This is a political decision likely designed to discourage travel while giving a talking point for the Liberals to diffuse anger from tourism industry and families separated across borders,” she tweeted.

In a statement, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said the announcement is still “out of step with science” and is behind provincial reopening plans.

“The fact that it is easier for vaccinated Canadians to fly to Paris than it is to drive to Buffalo demonstrates how illogical the present policy is. It is time for common sense, guided by science, to dictate a well considered reopening plan,” said the Chamber’s CEO Perrin Beatty.

Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder echoed this sentiment, saying in a separate statement that while the move is welcome and long-overdue, it “falls far short of the comprehensive plan” that factors in the hard-hit hospitality and tourism sectors.

“A transparent plan with clear benchmarks to reopen travel would be a powerful tool for encouraging Canadians to get fully vaccinated. The Council is disappointed that the government hasn’t seen fit to tell Canadians what they can look forward to as the vaccination campaign rolls on,” Hyder said.

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