Canada drops COVID-19 border rules and travel mask mandate

OTTAWA-

The federal government has announced that it is dropping all COVID-19 related border restrictions for anyone entering Canada, including: proof of COVID-19 vaccination, quarantine and isolation requirements, and all COVID-19 screening tests before or on arrival.

Canada is also making the ArriveCan app optional and lifting the mask mandate and health screening requirements for travelers on planes and trains.

The declaration of the imminent end of these restrictions, effective October 1, marks an important step in Canada‘s response to the pandemic.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and other relevant ministers and public health officials spoke about the lifting of pandemic precautions on Monday morning in Ottawa.

“We have always maintained that the extraordinary measures we introduced at our borders and on planes, trains and boats were temporary and that we would adjust them as the situation changed. Today, that is exactly what we do,” Alghabra said. “We are taking another step towards returning to normal travel that connects families, workers and our communities.”

Deciding to let the special orders that for months maintained Canada’s pandemic special authorizations under the Quarantine Act expire means:

  • Foreign nationals will not need to be vaccinated to enter the country;
  • Travelers entering major airports will not be subject to mandatory random COVID-19 testing;
  • Unvaccinated Canadians will no longer have to self-isolate when they return and if someone is in semi-isolation as of October 1, they will not have to complete the rest;
  • Travelers will not have to monitor or report if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 upon arrival;
  • Submitting public health information through the ArriveCan app before landing will become optional; and
  • It will no longer be mandatory to wear a face mask when traveling by plane or train.

Measures for cruise ships are also being lifted, although guidance to protect passengers and crew will remain “aligned with the approach used in the United States”.

Officials said that although Canada is lifting the mask mandate, travelers are still “strongly recommended” to wear high-quality, well-fitting masks and to make “informed decisions” when traveling.

The government reminds travelers that they should not do so if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19, and that they will still need to follow provincial or territorial requirements.

COVID-19 will remain one of the communicable diseases listed in the Quarantine Act, and travelers who are ill upon arrival in Canada are urged to notify a staff member or border services officer, as they “may then be directed to a quarantine officer who will decide if the traveler requires further medical evaluation,” according to a government statement.

Foreign nationals will still need to meet entry requirements under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and will need to provide the appropriate travel and immigration documents in order to enter Canada.

“The Government of Canada will retain the ability to reinstate certain border measures should they become necessary in the future to protect Canadians from the importation of new variants of concern or other emerging public health threats,” Duclos said. .

WHY IS CANADA DOING THIS NOW?

The government says the removal of these border measures is the result of modeling indicating that Canada is ‘well past’ the peak of the wave of Omicron infections; high vaccination rates and lower hospitalization and death rates in Canada; as well as the availability of reminders, rapid tests and COVID-19 treatments.

However, in his opening remarks, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr Howard Njoo warned that Canada could see “an early sign of a resurgence” in infections as the season begins. fall and advocates staying on top of booster doses as well as continued mask wearing in indoor and crowded environments.

Asked how the government reconciles concerns about the potential for an increase in cases in the coming months with the decision to lift all entry and masking requirements, Duclos said that although COVID-19 is still very present, suggesting to look no further than any hospital – the data indicates that the rate of importing cases through the border is “insignificant”.

He said the government was leaving “all possible options open” in terms of reinstating public health measures, if necessary.

Seeking to downplay suggestions already coming from Tory MPs that the election of Pierre Poilievre as the new leader is driving this change given his advocacy for dropping COVID-19-related mandates, the Treasury Board President , Mona Fortier, told reporters on Monday that, “it wasn’t politicians who brought us here today.”

“It was Canadians who rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated. You did your part, you made Canada a better place,” she said.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF ARRIVECAN?

After months of defending the sometimes glitched app and insisting it was an ‘essential tool’ despite pressure from the travel industry and opposition MPs to scrap it , ministers sought to defend a change of position on Monday.

“To be blunt about this, now that ArriveCan will be optional, it will actually be a simpler change because it will be up to the traveler to choose whether to use this technology,” Mendicino said.

However, the application does not completely disappear.

ArriveCan was deployed early in the pandemic to help the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) process travelers more efficiently. Its use and functions evolved over the next two years.

Although air carriers no longer need to validate that travelers have completed the vaccination and quarantine portions of the form prior to boarding, the “advance declaration” feature will remain an option for Canadians who prefer to enter this information by digital way.

By being able to submit customs and immigration declarations before arrival, the government says this option will save Canadians time at the airport.

“I know there are various anecdotes, some people were very frustrated and others said their experience actually went pretty well,” Mendicino said.

“Early data shows that using CBSA Advance Declaration in ArriveCAN reduces the time a traveler spends at a kiosk by approximately one-third, and more than 30% of travelers arriving at airports are already using,” the government said in a statement.

This feature is already available at Pearson as well as Vancouver and Montreal International Airports. It will soon be offered at international airports in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Billy Bishop Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec and Halifax “in the coming months”.

The Government also commits that the CBSA will continue to seek ways to expedite the entry of travelers, including exploring other optional features within ArriveCan to provide travelers with access to border wait times. and other functions.


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