After more than a year of travel restrictions affecting most Canadians, the federal government has finally started relaxing the rules.
Ottawa has embarked on Phase 1 of a multi-phase approach to lift its travel restrictions. However, the government warns that the process will be gradual – based on scientific data rather than people’s requests to reopen the borders.
Here’s what changes are coming soon and what to expect as more Canadians get vaccinated.
Phase 1: Vaccinated travelers can skip the quarantine
Since the pandemic began, Canada has closed its borders to most non-essential traffic and requires a 14-day quarantine for travelers who are allowed to enter.
The government increased the stakes in late February, ordering travelers to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and passengers to spend part of their quarantine in a specific hotel until they receive the test results.
Ottawa. however announced on Wednesday that all fully vaccinated travelers who are currently allowed to enter Canada will soon be able to skip the 14-day quarantine requirement, including the mandatory hotel stay. Instead, they must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before departure, take another test upon arrival, and self-isolate until that test is negative.
The government has not yet set a date for the rule change, but says it “hopes” to implement it by early July.
“These changes will only be made if the [COVID-19] The number of cases will continue to fall and if the vaccination campaign continues well, “Government Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told a press conference in French on Wednesday.
The upcoming rule change is welcome news for many vaccinated travelers – but not for those who will be flying to Canada before it comes into effect.
“I feel like it’s a little punishment and a slap in the face,” said Fay Wallenberg, who grew up in Regina and now lives in Tuscany.
Wallenberg, who is flying home to visit her parents on June 25, has received both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
She couldn’t change her travel plans, she said and will now arrive knowing that vaccinated travelers may be able to skip the quarantine hotel just a week later.
“I think that’s terribly unfair,” said Wallenberg. “I am fully vaccinated.”
On Wednesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said various government departments are still finalizing plans to change the rules to ensure they are “operational” by July.
Is my vaccine OK? What about my kids
At this point, only travelers who have received a Health Canada-approved vaccine – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson – will be allowed to bypass the 14-day quarantine. The government said it would evaluate other COVID-19 vaccines at a later date and consider approving them.
Ottawa said it is also working on a traveler vaccine passport, and if it isn’t ready until the rules change, Canadian border officials will use their documents to determine the status of a traveler.
Hajdu has yet to say whether unvaccinated children can skip the hotel requirement when traveling with fully vaccinated parents. Health Canada has only approved the COVID-19 vaccine for these so far from 12 years.
“We will not separate families traveling together,” Hajdu said on Wednesday Power & Politics. However, she did not provide any further details and said they had yet to be worked out.
The government said it has no set schedule for when further travel restrictions will be eased.
“The metrics we’re looking at are less date-centric and more disease-centric,” Hajdu said. Case numbers, hospital stays and vaccination rates will all play a role in dictating Ottawa’s next steps, she said.
The government’s next vaccination target to ease border restrictions is to fully vaccinate 75 percent of all eligible Canadians, said Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam. Currently, only seven percent of Canadians aged 18 and over received two doses.
What about the Canada-US border?
Canada’s phased approach to lifting travel restrictions has frustrated some US politicians who now want to implement a plan to reopen the Canada-US land border.
Lately there has been speculation that the The US is planning to go alone and reopen its side of the border for non-essential traffic on June 22nd – when the current deal expires.
CLOCK | A look at how Canada is looking to relax its travel restrictions
U.S. immigration attorney Len Saunders says he spoke to nearly a dozen U.S. customs and border guards who say they have been told the U.S. land border will reopen that day.
“If you call me two weeks today, I’ll be shocked if the US border doesn’t reopen,” said Saunders, whose office is in Blaine, Washington, near the Canadian border.
However, the US government has denied the rumors.
Hajdu also said she met with US Health Minister Alex Azar and they agreed last week that it would be beneficial for both countries to develop joint health protocols to ease travel restrictions.
Either way, eager cross-border commuters will soon be able to get more information. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden will discuss the issue at the current G7 summit in the UK, according to New York Congressman Brian Higgins.
“Ultimately, these are the only two decision-makers that matter,” Higgins said during Thursday a panel discussion hosted by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. “You can make a game changer.”