The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.
Previously, the agency had cautioned against unnecessary travel even for vaccinated people, but noted that it would update its guidance as more people got vaccinated and evidence mounted about the protection the shots provide.
Even with the new guidance, however, U.S. health officials said at a briefing on Friday that they hoped the recommendation wouldn’t be taken up in great numbers anytime soon, even by the those vaccinated.
“While we believe that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of cases,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Walensky — who earlier in the week said she had a feeling of “impending doom” due to widely circulating variants and states opening up activity prematurely — said there had an eight per cent increase in reported cases on Friday since the previous CDC report.
Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska’s College of Public Health, said the update reinforces the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and is another incentive for people to get vaccinated.
“Every day you get more data, and you change your guidance based on the existing data,” said Khan.
According to the CDC, nearly 100 million people in the U.S. — or about 30 per cent of the population — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine. Some 56 million people have been fully vaccinated, officials said Friday.
As well, unvaccinated people are still advised to avoid unnecessary travel.
The new travel guidance says:
Fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S., without getting tested for the coronavirus or quarantining. People should still wear a mask, maintain physical distance and avoid crowds, the agency says.
For international travel, the agency says vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before leaving, though some destinations may require it.
Vaccinated people should still get a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to the U.S. and be tested three to five days after returning. They do not need to quarantine. The agency noted the potential introduction of virus variants and differences in vaccine coverage around the world for the cautious guidance on overseas travel.
The CDC cited recent research on the real-world effects of the vaccines for its updated guidance. Already, the agency had said fully vaccinated people could visit with each other indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
It also said vaccinated people could visit with unvaccinated people from a single household under similar conditions, as long as the unvaccinated individuals were at low risk for severe illness if infected.
The U.S. began its vaccine rollout in mid-December. The first vaccines — from Pfizer and Moderna — require two doses taken a few weeks apart. A one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was given the green light by regulators at the end of February.
The federal government plans to clarify its pandemic travel rules for autoworkers after complaints from the industry, which says it’s being hurt by ambiguity at the border.
At issue is how border agents deal with autoworkers moving between facilities in Canada and the U.S. Industry officials have expressed frustration that Canadian guards don’t seem to have clear instructions, forcing some workers to quarantine when they re-enter Canada but not others, and that it risks doing economic damage.
On Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair committed to performing a quick review of the policy during a virtual meeting with auto-sector representatives, said one meeting participant, Flavio Volpe.
That development came after CBC News and other media reported on mounting annoyance in the sector, with industry representatives fuming that they had tried and failed to reach Blair for months.
Volpe, who heads Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said the minister opened Tuesday’s meeting by expressing a desire to work with the sector to clarify the rules.
He said the sides set up a group to work on changes — and that they planned to do it quickly.
“We expect that we’re going to see some substantive clarification in days, and that’s very helpful,” Volpe said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m expecting specific clarification that’s going to make it easier for essential automotive people to do their job. And we have that commitment from Minister Blair and from the [Canada Border Services Agency]…. I think that we’ve broken through here.”
Critical moment in the auto sector
What had the companies complaining was the alleged lack of clarity on how the industry’s technical workers and executives should be treated while re-entering Canada after doing work at U.S. facilities.
They said the rules are applied inconsistently — even on the same day at the same border crossing — which has resulted in company employees being forced into quarantine.
They said this is putting Canadian auto companies at a competitive disadvantage against American rivals at a critical moment for the sector.
Companies are now competing for a wave of contracts related to a pair of developments: the ongoing emergence of electric vehicles and the new supply chains established under the updated NAFTA.
Volpe said that at the start of the meeting, the minister said essential travel for auto-parts employees and executives is not a significant new risk for public health, and that he wanted to find a solution.
Volpe said the sector is not pushing for a complete reopening of the border. “We’re talking about a clarification for essential business travel,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Blair, Mary-Liz Power, said the government will continue to enforce public-health protocols at the border but is open to making adjustments.
“The government is listening to all sectors of the economy as it develops further protocols to identify and enforce restrictions for essential travellers, including technicians from the auto sector,” she said in an email.
“We have been clear that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic will adapt quickly to this rapidly evolving public health threat.”
None of the federal government’s recently announced new travel measures — which include COVID-19 testing upon arrival — apply to the largest group of people regularly entering Canada: Commercial truck drivers.
Of the 10 million entries into Canada since March 21, 2020, close to half — 4.6 million — were made by commercial truck drivers crossing by land, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.
Because truck drivers deliver essential goods across the border during the pandemic, the government has exempted them from quarantine and all COVID-19 test requirements. Ottawa says it’s exploring tests for truckers at the border but has not yet presented concrete plans.
“You hear how this thing is spreading like wildfire,” said long-haul trucker Luis Franco of Calgary, who transports goods to the U.S. four to five times a month.
“I’m very concerned about my family when I come back,” Franco said. “I don’t want to get them sick.”
Even though truck drivers are exempt from quarantine, they must follow other protective measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and answering health questions at the border.
Despite following all the rules, Franco said he still feels unsafe because he encounters many people at U.S. rest stops who don’t take precautions.
“A lot of the Americans like in the southern states, or in the western states, they don’t believe in COVID,” he said. “You walk into a truck stop or fuel up, or to do whatever you got to do and [it appears as though] 80 per cent of the people, they’re not wearing masks, they’re not social distancing.”
Watch: Truck driver Luis Franco talks about the dangers trucker face
Calgary-based Luis Franco says the essential worker exemptions for border crossing truck drivers like himself are dangerous. He makes four to five trips into the U.S. every month, where he says too many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously. He worries he could be infected and bring the virus — or one of the highly-contagious new variants — into Canada, and into his own home. He wants to see the federal government take action, to either enforce rapid testing at the border or to give truckers priority for the COVID vaccine. 2:02
As an added protection, Franco wants the government to test truckers for COVID-19 each time they cross into Canada.
“A lot of us could very well be asymptomatic,” he said.
Franco’s not alone. More than 100 Canadian science and health experts have signeda petition calling for the federal government to implement strict border measures, including COVID-19 tests for everyone entering Canada — including essential workers.
“Canada faces a very significant risk of an escalated new, variant driven COVID wave,” says the petition.
Effective Feb.15, travellers entering Canada by land must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test at the border. And starting on Feb. 22, they will also be required to take another COVID-19 test on arrival, as well as one near the end of their 14-day quarantine.
However, truckers and other essential workers — who are already exempt from quarantine — are exempt from the new test requirements.
On Sunday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government is also exploring the introduction of COVID-19 tests for essential workers crossing the border.
“We’re working very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada and also with our provincial health authorities to [look] at implementing a system of regular testing to help protect those essential workers and truck drivers that are coming into the country and also to ensure that they’re not the source of any new infection,” Blair said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.
But infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jeff Kwong said the government needs to take action now.
“It only takes a handful of [truckers] to be infected when they’re coming back and then they’re seeding infections here in Canada,” said Kwong, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Kwong recommends Ottawa immediately introduce COVID-19 rapid tests for essential workers crossing the land border. Rapid tests are known to be less sensitive than regular COVID-19 tests, but provide results within minutes.
“Just do a test at the border. If they’re positive, then don’t go home to your family,” Kwong said. “I’m not sure why it hasn’t been implemented.”
Following the swift spread of a new COVID-19 variantin the United Kingdom in December, several European countries began demanding that truck drivers entering from the U.K. provide proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid test.
“It’s scary,” said Steeves who lives in Woodbridge, Ont. “We have to go to the states, we have to go to California, we have to go to Florida, you know what I mean? We’re going through these bad [COVID-19] areas.”
Despite the risks, Steeves isn’t a fan of testing truckers because she believes it would create a logistical nightmare.
“The wait at the border would be insane,” she said.
Teamsters Canada — which represents more than 15,000 long-haul truck drivers — agrees with Steeves, which is why the union recommends the government instead test truckers at truck stops and rest areas. It also wants truck drivers given top proriority for COVID-19 vaccinations.
“More needs to be done to protect drivers as new and potentially more dangerous variants emerge,” said Teamsters spokesperson, Christopher Monette in an email.
Truck drivers Franco and Steeves agree they should be vaccinated as soon as possible. However, neither of them are in the top priority group for their province, meaning they could wait months for their shots.
“If we can help protect ourselves a little bit more by having the vaccine [now], that’d be awesome,” said Steeves.
The Public Health Agency of Canada did not respond to a request for comment on prioritizing vaccinations for truckers.
Iceland recently became the first country in Europe to issue and recognize COVID-19 vaccination certificates, which it hopes will allow vaccinated individuals to travel freely within its borders and abroad.
Since early in the pandemic, the island nation has required a five-day quarantine for international arrivals. Now, those with documentation showing they have received a full course of COVID-19 vaccines will be able to skip quarantine.
Whether Iceland’s certificates are actually recognized will be up to other countries. But there are some parallels between Iceland’s experience and the future faced by some lucky Canadians.
Iceland expects to vaccinate a majority of adults by mid-2021, months ahead of its neighbours. Residents of Nunavut, Yukon and the N.W.T. are expecting the same.
That means a greatly reduced risk that the territories’ limited health systems will be overtaxed by COVID-19 cases — and a greater challenge justifying their quarantines, which are making it harder to attract skilled workers and gutting the vital tourism sector.
Could vaccine certificates be part of travel inside Canada? While the answer isn’t totally clear yet, there are reasons to think Iceland’s experiment would meet a chilly reception here.
Iceland less cautious
Iceland has generally been less cautious than the rest of the world when it comes to COVID-19. It opted for a shorter quarantine period than most, and it issued similar certificates for those who had recovered from COVID-19 on the assumption (which has been questioned) that people could not contract the disease twice.
The introduction of vaccination certificates has been no less controversial, partly because health authorities stress there is still little evidence available vaccines prevent a person from carrying the coronavirus and infecting others.
For Iceland’s certificates to matter, they will need to get buy-in from their 25 neighbours in Europe’s free-travel zone. That’s not going to be easy.
“It’s a top priority that travel becomes hassle-free again,” said Pascal Prinz, the chair of the commission’s Canada chapter. “[Vaccination passports] would be a complimentary tool.”
Unresolved legal questions
But some of Iceland’s neighbours have been turned off by some unresolved legal questions.
While international health regulations allow states to request proof of vaccination against certain diseases, such as yellow fever, COVID-19 is not currently among them. Expanding that list would require a recommendation from the World Health Organization, experts say.
Some countries, like Germany and France, have also raised concerns that the certificates may be discriminatory. Even the U.K., which funded eight companies’ efforts to design a digital COVID-19 passport, now says it has no plan to use them for international travel.
Canadian groups raise similar objections. Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms project, says certificates could discriminate against pregnant mothers and children, who are still discouraged from getting COVID-19 vaccines in some places, or against certain religious groups or other conscientious objectors.
We are not there yet as a country.– Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the N.W.T. chief public health officer
“There are real equality concerns if we’re going to start doling out benefits and demerits based on who is vaccinated,” she said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada didn’t respond to questions about Iceland’s passports in time for publication. But in the North, where residents can expect to be immunized months ahead of most other places, health authorities still caution that barrier-free travel, even within Canada, is unlikely anytime soon.
Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the N.W.T.’s chief public health officer, says health authorities would need to be convinced that the vaccine prevents transmission of COVID-19 — and right now, they aren’t.
Tracking system lacking
The lack of any common database to track travellers and their vaccination status is another barrier, he wrote.
“There needs to be a lot of thinking on how to structure any tracking system,” he wrote in an email. “We are not there yet as a country.”
That means for now, officials in all three territories said proof of vaccination would not mean easier travel for anyone.
The N.W.T.’s 14-day quarantine remains in place even for those who have received a full dose of vaccines. According to a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, immunization cards can’t be used “as proof for travel or other purposes.”
Similarly, Nunavut’s health authorities said in a statement it’s “too early to make any decisions or changes” to travel or quarantine rules.
But whatever the objections, the debate over COVID-19 passports is not going away. Denmark, Sweden and Israel may soon join Iceland in rolling out their own vaccination passport systems.
Even the European Commission, which called discussion of travel certificates “premature” in a recent communique, says as vaccination campaigns accelerate, the “mutual recognition of vaccination [will] become of utmost importance.”
Ultimately, it’s still too soon to say whether it’s even safe for the vaccinated to be travelling across borders, and it will take more time still to figure out just how to manage it. So like so many other pandemic policies, it’s a case of hurry up and wait.
Canada’s main airlines have agreed to cancel service to the Caribbean and Mexico and the federal government is introducing new mandatory quarantine rules as it tries to discourage international travel.
This morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat have agreed to suspend service to some sun destinations starting this Sunday until April 30, and will be making arrangements with their customers who are in these regions now to organize flights home.
“With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying,” said Trudeau outside his home at Rideau Cottage.
Starting at 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 3, all international passenger, private and charter flights, including from the U.S., will land at the Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal airports. Cargo-only flights will remain exempt.
The prime minister said the government will soon introducing mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people returning to Canada “as soon as possible in the coming weeks.” That’s on top of the pre-boarding test already required.
WATCH | Prime minister introduces new restrictions for international travel:
Justin Trudeau announced that Canada’s main airlines have agreed to suspend service to sun destinations until April 30. 3:13
Travellers will then have to wait up to three days at a government-approved hotel for their test results, at their own expense, which Trudeau said is expected to be more than $ 2,000.
Transport Canada said there will be “very limited exceptions.”
Those with a negative test will then be able to finish their 14-day quarantine at home, with increased surveillance. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam added that returnees will also be swabbed on day 10.
She also said travellers who have been vaccinated abroad will still be subject to the quarantine rules, but added that’s under discussion.
“We know that just one case of the variant that comes in could cause significant challenges and that’s why we need to take extra measures,” Trudeau said.
“Yes, it is extremely low, the percentage of cases that are traced back to international travel, but it’s not zero.”
He also said that, in the coming weeks, Canada will begin requiring non-essential travellers to show a negative test before entry at the land border with the U.S.
Ed Sims, president and CEO of WestJet, said the federal government asked the airlines to temporarily shutter some of their flights.
“The government asked, and we agreed,” said Sims.
“While we know that air travel is responsible for less than two per cent of cases since the start of the crisis, and even less today, we recognize the Government of Canada’s ask is a precautionary measure.”
Air Canada issued a statement saying the decision won’t have much impact on their cash burn, given already reduced levels of travel.
“Air Canada believes a collaborative approach with the Government of Canada involving all air carriers is the best means to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially given concerns around the variants of COVID- 19 and travel during the Spring Break period,” said company president Calin Rovinescu. Customers with booked flights to any of the 15 impacted destinations will be offered full refunds, he added.
When asked why other vacation destinations, including Florida, aren’t part of the suspensions, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government looked at the most popular locations.
“There is a voluntary agreement and understanding with the airlines that it’s best to suspend their airlines. Now for people who are travelling to the U.S., they will be subjected to the same requirements that we subject all arrivals to,” he said.
“What we’re doing is we’re calling on all Canadians to cancel their flights, not just to the Caribbean, not just to Mexico, to all destinations. The prime minister has been clear for a while. I’m repeating it right now, we’re calling on all Canadians to please cancel your vacation.”
Friday’s move follows weeks of mounting political pressure on the federal government to tighten up border travel.
Canada’s move is not without precedent. Australia has been requiring most travellers to quarantine at a government-arranged hotel for 14 days for $ 2,800 AUD per adult and $ 4,620 AUD for a family of four.
The U.K. introduced similar measures on Thursday and now requires citizens arriving from dozens of high-risk countries to quarantine in hotels for 10 days at their own expense.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said his party was the first to ask to secure the border at the start of the pandemic and the Liberals were slow to act.
“Lockdowns and restrictions were put in place to buy governments time to get permanent solutions like vaccines, rapid testing, variant testing capacity, and therapeutics – these tools now exist,” he said in a statement.
“The problem is, Justin Trudeau hasn’t succeeded in bringing them to widespread use in Canada. We need to be using these tools to reduce quarantine times, like our allies around the world are doing.”
Canada has had a ban on non-essential travel into the country by anyone who isn’t a citizen or permanent resident since March, but banning the flow of Canadians in and out of the country is a thornier task.
People who return from abroad for non-essential reasons must quarantine for two weeks, or risk hefty financial penalties or jail time — a measure that’s also been in place since March.
As of earlier this month, most travellers must also show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in Canada.
U.S. Capitol Police are stepping up security at Washington-area transportation hubs and taking other steps to safeguard travelling lawmakers as Congress continues to react to this month’s deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Capitol Police will be stationed at area airports and Washington’s Union Station railway hub on busy travel days, the House’s chief law enforcement officer wrote in an email obtained Friday by The Associated Press. Timothy P. Blodgett, the acting sergeant-at-arms, wrote that officials were setting up an online portal so lawmakers can notify them of travel plans and urged legislators to report threats and suspicious activity.
“Members and staff should remain vigilant of their surroundings and immediately report anything unusual or suspicious,” said the email, sent late Thursday.
Blodgett said lawmakers have previously been advised that they can use office expense accounts to pay for security to protect their offices and events in their districts and for self-protection while performing official duties. It also cited a 2017 Federal Elections Commission opinion that they can use campaign contributions to install security systems at their homes.
Federal officials, meanwhile, said Friday that two pipe bombs left at the offices of the Republican and Democratic national committees — discovered just before thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol — were actually placed the night before.
The FBI said the investigation had revealed new information, including that the explosive devices were placed outside the two buildings between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 5, the night before the siege. The devices were not located by law enforcement until the next day.
It is not clear whether that means the pipe bombs were unrelated to the next day’s attack or were part of the riot planning. Both buildings are within a few blocks of the Capitol.
The incident has been particularly concerning for law enforcement as officials step up security preparations ahead of the Senate’s impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump. For weeks, investigators have been worried about the potential for attacks on soft targets in the nation’s capital.
The FBI released additional photos of the explosive devices on Friday, including a photograph that showed one of the devices placed underneath a bush. Officials have also increased the reward in the case to $ 100,000 US.
Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s office in Washington, said earlier this week that locating the person who planted the pipe bombs was a top priority for federal agents, though officials have only released grainy surveillance camera images of a potential suspect.
On Friday, the FBI said the person wore a grey hooded sweatshirt, a face mask and Nike Air Max Speed Turf sneakers in yellow, black and grey, and had been carrying a backpack.
‘Enemy is within the House,’ Pelosi says
President Joe Biden is in “close touch” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, about congressional security, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Pelosi told reporters Thursday that lawmakers face threats of violence from an “enemy” within Congress and said money would be needed to improve security. The California Democrat’s comments were a startling acknowledgment of escalating internal tensions between the two parties over safety since the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters.
Also Thursday, the acting chief of the Capitol Police said “vast improvements” are needed to protect the Capitol and adjacent office buildings, including permanent fencing.
Such barricades have ringed the complex since the deadly Jan. 6 riot, but many lawmakers have long resisted giving the nation’s symbol of democracy the look of a besieged compound, and leaders were noncommittal about the idea.
Pelosi focused her comments on the anxiety and partisan frictions that have persisted in Congress since Trump supporters’ assault on the Capitol, which led to five deaths. She told reporters she thinks Congress will need to provide money “for more security for members, when the enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about.”
Asked to clarify what she meant, Pelosi said, “It means that we have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”
Some lawmakers who voted for this month’s House impeachment of Trump have reported receiving threats, and initial moves to enhance safety procedures have taken on clear partisan undertones. Some Republicans have loudly objected to having to pass through newly installed metal detectors before entering the House chamber, while Pelosi has proposed fining lawmakers who bypass the devices.
WATCH | James Comey says Trump should be banned from running again:
Former FBI director James Comey says former U.S. president Donald Trump should be convicted in the upcoming impeachment trial 8:28
Pelosi did not say whom she meant by her reference to an “enemy” within the House, and a spokesperson provided no examples.
First-term Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has expressed support for baseless QAnon conspiracy theories, has liked Facebook posts that advocated for violence against Democrats and the FBI. One post suggested shooting Pelosi in the head.
Asked to comment, the Republican from Georgia sent a written statement accusing Democrats and journalists of attacking her because she is “a threat to their goal of Socialism” and supports Trump and conservative values.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that new pandemic measures for travel are coming and Canadians should cancel any travel plans.
Trudeau said that even though existing travel control measures have been effective in keeping the number of infections low, more effort will be needed going forward.
“Obviously, extremely low is still not zero and one case is too many if we’re importing, particularly considering the variants out there,” Trudeau said.
“Because we already have some of the strongest measures anywhere, we have to be very careful as we move forward on even further measures.
“One just has to remember that we are reliant on supply chains from around the world for food, for goods, for essential medications and we do not want measures that we are going to be bringing in … to have an impact on those essential supply chains.”
As an example, Trudeau pointed to the fact that essential cargo is often transported in the holds of passenger aircraft and he does not want to interfere with those imports.
The prime minister said his government is working “carefully and diligently” on new measures and will have more to say in the next few days.
Canada has had a ban on non-essential travel into the country by anyone who isn’t a citizen or permanent resident since March, but it can’t as easily bar the flow of Canadians in and out of the country.
Trudeau pointed out that most people who return from abroad must quarantine for two weeks and they face financial penalties or jail time if they do not. Most are also now required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in Canada.
That requirement went into effect on Jan. 7. Government data show that, since then, dozens of flights have landed in Canada carrying passengers who were later found to be COVID-19 positive.
As of last week, about 1.15 per cent of travellers arriving in Calgary and participating in a pilot COVID-19 testing program have been found to be infected with the virus. A similar project underway at Toronto’s Pearson airport reportedly has a positivity rate of just over 2 per cent.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who had pushed the federal government to launch the testing program, is expected to visit the airport Tuesday.
More restrictions needed: Freeland
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC Radio’s The Current today that while she would not say which new travel restrictions cabinet has been discussing, stronger rules on the border are needed to further discourage non-essential travel.
“We need to bring in even tougher border measures than the ones we have right now,” she told host Matt Galloway. “I think Canadians are rightly concerned about these new variants and we need to do everything we can to keep them from getting into the country. Precisely how we do that is something the government is discussing and looking at very urgently right now.”
“I really believe that where provinces and territories are acting to crush COVID-19, particularly now with these new variants out there, they will have the federal government’s support,” Freeland said.
Trudeau pointed to Canada’s move on Jan. 7, 2021 to require all travellers over the age of five to produce proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken no longer than 72 hours before boarding a flight to Canada.
In the first two weeks after that measure was imposed, airlines saw at least 50,000 flight reservations cancelled.
The federal government announced the new testing regime following multiple reports of prominent Canadians — including political figures — travelling abroad for the holidays in defiance of government advisories against non-essential travel.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the federal government is considering further limits on international travel into Canada to prevent the introduction of new COVID-19 cases as calls from opposition leaders for additional pandemic measures grow louder.
“I very much understand and I’m very sympathetic to the view that, with the virus raging around the world, we need to be sure our borders are really, really secure,” Freeland said in an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics.
“And that’s something that we’re working on really urgently now.”
The comments come a day after Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said he wouldn’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week he is open to tighter restrictions but suggested existing measures are still effective.
Freeland hinted during an earlier press conference that one of the options on the table is mandatory hotel quarantines for air travellers who return from non-essential trips abroad.
“We are considering the issue very, very seriously,” Freeland said in French in response to a question about a quarantine rule.
The federal government currently requires all incoming travellers aged five and over to present a negative COVID-19 test result from a test taken less than 72 hours before boarding.
They must also quarantine for 14 days upon arrival (unless they are exempt because they are an essential worker) but can do so at their own homes. The mandatory quarantine is enforced by public health officers, who make thousands of calls per day to verify compliance, the government said in a news release last month.
International travellers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents are currently banned from entering Canada, although there is a long list of exemptions that include essential workers, seasonal workers, caregivers and international students.
Federal figures suggest that between two and five per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada are linked to travel, but there is still virtually no testing at the border and many recent cases do not have an identified source.
Ford, Singh push for additional measures
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he is urging Trudeau to deny entry to Canada to anyone who is not a Canadian resident or citizen.
“There’s no reason we need people coming in,” Ford told a press conference on Monday.
“Every time I look up at the sky I’m thinking, ‘How many cases are coming in?’ This has to stop.”
Ford also called for mandatory testing for all travellers arriving by land and air.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the federal government should consider both mandatory hotel quarantines and a full-on ban of non-essential international travel.
“We’ve seen the use of quarantines — very firm and strict quarantines for travellers — work very effectively in other jurisdictions,” said Singh. “I’m open to similar measures, enforcing a strict quarantine of 14 days, making sure that it happens in a hotel or another facility similarly. But it’s firm and it’s required and it’s monitored.”
A number of countries that have been successful at minimizing community spread of COVID-19 — including South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand — have stricter quarantine regimes than Canada.
In New Zealand, which had just 64 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, passengers head straight to a “managed isolation facility” — a hotel — if they have no symptoms, or to a “quarantine facility” if they do.
In South Korea, new arrivals must self-isolate for two weeks at a government-designated facility at their own expense. They can choose to quarantine at home but must download a tracking app to ensure compliance.
Mandatory quarantine can reduce leisure travel, expert says
Karen Grépin, associate professor at Hong Kong University’s school of public health, said in an interview on CBC’s News Network that two-week hotel-based quarantines can serve to reduce the amount of non-essential travel by providing a disincentive for people thinking about travelling for leisure.
“I like them because it means people can still come and go if you need to, ” said Grépin, who has studied travel restrictions around the world during the pandemic. “I like it because you don’t have to predict where the risk is coming from because it applies evenly to everyone.”
Grépin said it’s too late for Canada to prevent the introduction of new coronavirus variants — including one first identified in South Africa and another that emerged in the U.K. — but it could reduce the number of cases of those variants.
WATCH | Hotel quarantine could help discourage non-essential travel, public health professor says
Prof. Karen Grépin says countries most successful in the fight against COVID-19 have adopted a two-week quarantine for all travellers. 4:09
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he wants the federal government to consult opposition parties before additional measures are brought in. He accused the Liberal government of being too slow to limit travel at the beginning of the pandemic.
The federal government has not consulted with the airline industry about more stringent measures, said Mike McNaney, head of the National Airlines Council of Canada.
“There’s been no reach-out,” added Air Transat spokesperson Christophe Hennebelle.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the federal government won’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel as parts of the country continue to experience high infection rates of COVID-19.
“We are looking at all potential actions to make sure that we can achieve our aims. The Emergencies Act is something you don’t consider lightly,” Garneau said in a Sunday interview on Rosemary Barton Live. “But we are first and foremost concerned about the health and safety of Canadians. And if we can do that in a way that we have the regulatory power to do it, we will do it.”
The Emergencies Act would give cabinet the power to regulate or prohibit travel “to, from or within any specified area, where necessary for the protection of the health or safety of individuals.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to rethink all travel plans inside and outside Canada’s borders, particularly as March break approaches.
“People should not be planning non-essential travel or vacation travel outside of the country, particularly because, as I said a few days ago, we could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning,” Trudeau cautioned.
“Last night I had a long conversation with the premiers about a number of different options that we could possibly exercise to further limit travel and to keep Canadians safe, and we will have more to say on those in the coming days.”
When asked by CBC’s Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton when such plans would be announced, Garneau said the measures are “in very active discussion.”
“I’m not going to predict when or what, but I can tell you that we are very seized with it in our government.”
U.S. moves to strengthen land border measures
The minister also said Canada is looking at implementing COVID-19 testing along the Canada-U.S. land border as the United States moves to strengthen safety measures at land ports of entry.
“It would be easier to do … if we have quick tests that can be done because it’s a little bit more challenging to do testing at the border. But it’s something that we’re looking at very seriously,” Garneau said.
“As quick tests come along, that makes a big difference because there are challenges with respect to … certain land border points being very congested. And meanwhile, there’s a huge amount of traffic flow that has to keep going.”
According to an executive order within the U.S. government’s national pandemic response strategy, top officials have been ordered to “commence diplomatic outreach to the governments of Canada and Mexico regarding public health protocols for land ports of entry.”
Within 14 days of the date of the order, officials must submit a plan to President Joe Biden to put appropriate public health measures in place.
“We will engage in a very serious way with the U.S. administration on how best to deal with land borders,” Garneau said.
The Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel until Feb. 21.
Biden open to Canadian input on ‘Buy American’ concerns
Aside from implementing a new approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, an executive order is expected Monday on Biden’s “Buy American” plans, fulfilling his campaign promise to purchase, produce and develop made-in-America goods.
“Obviously, if we see that there can be cases where there is damage done to our trade because of Buy America policy, we will speak up,” Garneau said. “President Biden has indicated that he is open to hearing from us whenever we feel concerned.”
Trudeau has already expressed his disappointment in Biden’s decision to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, with many now turning to Buy American provisions as another potential obstacle in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
“Less than an hour after the end of the inauguration ceremony, we were in touch with top-level advisers in the White House and discussed many things,” Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, told CBC Radio’s The House this week. “Among them was Buy America.”
Garneau also said that he plans to speak with Antony Blinken — Biden’s nominee for secretary of state and Garneau’s U.S. counterpart — very soon.
“I’m really looking forward to talking to Secretary Blinken and carrying on the messages … between our prime minister and the president,” he said.
Peter Berman has resigned as director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health just over a week after admitting to holiday travel during the school’s winter break.
Berman announced his resignation in a Friday statement posted online. He said it would take effect at the end of the day.
“I took this difficult decision based on my assessment that the conditions of distress and division currently prevailing at SPPH make it impossible for me to continue to provide effective leadership to grow and develop our school, our community and our profession in my role as SPPH director,” Berman said in a statement.
“I deeply regret any actions of mine that may have caused this situation. I am grateful to the many of you who have shared messages of support to me directly or to others in our community and faculty. I also respect the many different views expressed by those in our wider community.”
Both provincial and federal authorities in Canada have repeatedly advised against unnecessary travel — especially international travel — as B.C. and other jurisdictions grapple with a second wave of coronavirus infections.