While the Canadian government has warned of more travel restrictions, shutting down the border won’t be one of them.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday (Dec. 22), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressing the current COVID-19 situation in Canada, including the spread of the new Omicron variant, said that “shutting down the border, at this point, would not be an effective measure.”
“The current reality is that Omicron is already present in our communities throughout the country,” Trudeau said, speaking in French. “As we saw during past waves, arrivals at the border represent an extremely small percentage of COVID cases.”
The Prime Minister said he is more focused on encouraging Canadians to decrease the size of their gatherings over Christmas.
“Closing the border, at this point in time, would not be beneficial because we always must remember a permanent resident or Canadian citizen has a right to return home at any time," Trudeau said.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos supported Trudeau’s comments, reiterating Canada’s “multi-layered approach” to limiting the spread of COVID-19 at border entry points, such as pre-departure and on-arrival testing.
The Government of Canada also recently brought back the requirement for a pre-arrival molecular (PCR) negative test result for all travellers leaving the country for less than 72 hours.
Duclos said that “community spread now, even more than prior variants, including Delta, is what we’re focusing on.”
Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has also previously stated that travel is not the main culprit when it comes to rising Omicron cases in the country.
“Increasing numbers of these cases are not linked to travel,” Dr. Tam said on Dec. 17, citing community transmission as the main factor.
According to the government's own epidemiological database, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from contact with a traveller is extremely low (0.7%).
Still, the Government of Canada brought back its advisory against non-essential international travel on Dec. 15 – a warning it quietly lifted in October.
“We do not want you to be stranded or be sick abroad,” Duclos said at the time. “Once you have left the country, once you are stranded, once you are sick, there is little the Canadian government can do to help you.”
WestJet immediately challenged the Canadian government's decision to bring back the non-essential travel advisory, saying in a statement on Dec. 15 that it is “not based on science and data.”
“Air travel is the most tested and protected consumer activity in Canada, every person travelling internationally is tested on average twice throughout their travel journey,” said Harry Taylor, WestJet's interim CEO, at the time. “As the only fully-vaccinated air travel sector in the world, WestJet is calling on the government to publicly share the travel-related COVID-19 data that has been used to re-impose the advisory and advice targeted towards fully-vaccinated Canadians and the travel and tourism industry.”