The government signalled it is aspiring to a “more sustainable” approach to COVID-19 restrictions at the border with several small changes Friday, but public health officials say vaccine and mask mandates remain important.
Unvaccinated children aged five to 11 travelling with a fully vaccinated adult will no longer need a COVID-19 test to enter Canada as of Monday.
Pre-entry tests will still be needed for partially vaccinated or unvaccinated travellers over the age of 12 who are eligible to travel to Canada.
Children under five don’t currently require a COVID-19 test.
Airports will still conduct random mandatory COVID-19 tests on travellers as they arrive, but they will be refocused to four major Canadian airports: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
In a news release Friday, government officials announced several other small changes to ease restrictions for international travellers that will take effect after the weekend, “as of part of the Government of Canada’s plans to move toward a more sustainable approach to COVID-19 travel requirements.”
Fully vaccinated travellers, and any kids under 12 with them, will no longer need to provide their quarantine plans when they enter the country.
And when vaccinated people arrive in Canada, they won’t need to wear a mask for 14 days, keep a list of contacts or report COVID-19 symptoms.
The government will also do away with the need for fully vaccinated travellers to quarantine if someone in their group develops COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive.
It’s a good time to ease restrictions at the border, deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said at a briefing in French Friday.
“If people are fully vaccinated, measures can be relaxed,” Njoo said in French.
The minor changes come as particularly good news for people travelling as a family this season, said National Airlines Council of Canada president Suzanne Acton-Gervais.
While Njoo and his chief, Dr. Theresa Tam, said restrictions should be constantly reviewed they also expressed support for the vaccine and mask mandates that are in place.
“I’m not saying anything about it from a policy perspective, but yes, the higher our vaccination rate is, the higher the uptake is of vaccines, the better overall,” Njoo said.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos did not appear at the press briefing, but said in a statement that the government would continue to consider further easing of border measures based on science as vaccination levels and health-care system capacity improve.
Airlines in the United States dropped their mask mandates after a Florida judge ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its authority in enacting the mandate on public transportation in the first place.
Combined with the fact that many provinces have announced plans to scrap their own mandates, that has prompted some to question whether Canadians should have to mask up on planes and trains.
Tam said if a mandate will encourage people to wear a mask and reduce transmission, why not have one?
“I mean, it has a certain amount of inconvenience perhaps, but it does not essentially restrict travel as such. So I think it’s one of the least intrusive measures, but adds definitely another layer of protection,” Tam said.
Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra says federal and provincial COVID-19 mandates are not out of step with each other at all.
“I actually think the federal rules and provincial rules are almost in sync,” he said at a separate press conference Friday.
“We’ve dropped testing requirements, we’ve dropped quarantine requirements, pre-departure tests. So we’ve really adjusted many of our measures.”
Ontario announced Friday it will extend its mask requirement in high-risk settings until June 11 while it weathers this latest wave of infections.
Tam said COVID-19 is still widespread throughout Canada, and the current wave appeared to be reaching a peak in some parts of the country before the Easter long weekend. It’s too soon to tell if gatherings over that long weekend will result in another bump in cases, she said.
Generally, the number of hospitalizations appears to be manageable during this wave, though some hospitals are suffering as health workers take time off because of COVID-19 infections, she said.
—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press