The Trudeau government is getting ready to end pandemic-era travel restrictions by scrapping its COVID-19 vaccination mandate at the border and eliminating random testing requirements, according to a Sept. 16 report in the Toronto Star.
An official announcement has not yet been made by the federal government, but The Star’s story, which does not name sources, implies that change is on the horizon as ministers weigh in on moves that could open the travel sector even further.
The story also claims that Ottawa will soon discontinue its unpopular ArriveCAN app as a mandatory travel requirement.
The Toronto Sun, on Sunday (Sept. 18), took a stab at confirming The Star’s report and found that mandatory masking, too, could be a rule of the past. If all goes well in the coming weeks.
“A trial balloon floated by the Trudeau government in the Toronto Star over the weekend looks set to fly,” wrote Sun columnist Brian Lilley.
Speaking to a variety of sources, the columnist said most measures will be gone by the end of September when the Order in Council that gives the existing restrictions and requirements expires.
The Canadian government has faced heightened criticism from border communities, tourism groups, travel agent advocates and Conservative MPs over its remaining COVID-19 restrictions, which continue to hinder the recovery of Canada’s travel industry.
The above changes, if green lit, would mean that unvaccinated foreigners would once again be allowed to visit Canada.
Additionally, unvaccinated Canadians would no longer face fines of up to $5,000 if they couldn’t show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a previous positive infection before entering the country.
Such individuals would also no longer need to quarantine at home for 14 days or be subject to on-arrival testing.
The Trudeau government is also facing lawsuits over ArriveCan, which is at the centre of a federal court challenge by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms on behalf of 11 Canadians, including some have been fined up to $8,500 for non-compliance.
There’s also talk of ending mandatory random testing for vaccinated travellers, the reports say.
This measure was temporarily suspended on June 11 before being reinstated again on July 19.
Random testing is now being conducted outside of airports to alleviate crowding in customs halls and they are done via virtual appointments using at-home testing kits or in-person at some participating pharmacies.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), test positivity rates increased from early June to mid-July in unvaccinated travellers (from 3.7 per cent to seven per cent).
According to The Star, the health agency has not published any figures since all testing was moved off-site and the data is “undergoing quality control checks.”
The notion of no longer having to upload proof of vaccination, travel details and quarantine plans into ArriveCAN will likely please travellers.
Many – including the union that represents guards at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) – complained over the summer that the app was slowing down processing times at understaffed airports.
Since early September, the Canadian government has been promoting ArriveCAN’s effectiveness. It has even unveiled upgrades to the platform, such as the optional “Advance CBSA Declaration” feature.
But pressure both within the Liberals’ own caucus and bureaucracy is reportedly challenging the government to evolve with COVID-19’s threat level, forcing officials to reconsider the effectiveness of outdated practices.
With a highly-vaccinated population, more treatment options and lower hospitalization rates in Canada, it’s time for a “natural evolution of our policies,” as one source told The Star.
Leaders in the travel industry likely agree.
WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech took to Twitter on Friday to retweet The Star’s exclusive, calling the story a “positive signal.”
“Hopefully it includes a transition of mandatory masking on airplanes as well and turn masking to recommended but optional as it becomes increasingly unenforceable!” von Hoensbroech wrote, attaching a “thumbs up” emoji to his tweet.