Changes to COVID-19 border measures to be announced next week, Health Minister Duclos says

People make their way through Pearson International Airport in Toronto, on Dec. 3, 2021.Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

The federal government will announce changes to some of its pandemic border rules next week but is holding off on providing details until then, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says.

“With the worst of Omicron now behind us, our government is actively reviewing the measures in place at our borders and we should be able to communicate changes on this next week,” Mr. Duclos said Friday at a media conference in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at a news conference on Parliament Hill held Friday, said measures requiring people to be fully vaccinated to board a plane or train and work in the federal public service are not among the changes that will be coming next week.

“I think it’s extremely important to emphasize that all the decisions we make will be based in science and indeed will be focused on Canadians getting their lives back to normal,” Mr. Trudeau said.

His government has been under intense pressure for weeks to lift at least some of the rules that make travel difficult. Currently individuals traveling abroad must be fully vaccinated and must take COVID-19 tests.

Canada also has a sweeping worldwide advisory against all non-essential travel, even for vaccinated people. The border rules are among the restrictions that protesters blockading streets around Parliament Hill say they want removed. One protest sign posted on the street across from Parliament asks why Canada is warning against travel and the dangers of the pandemic while also sending hundreds of athletes and staff to the Olympics in China.

The Canadian rules require vaccinated individuals traveling internationally outside the United States to take a prearrival and on-arrival COVID-19 molecular test. They must isolate until they receive the on-arrival test result. There have been long waiting times for the result in Canada, leaving people in isolation for days.

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Canada has been accused by the Conservatives of lagging behind other countries in lifting its travel restrictions. On Friday, Britain lifted all testing requirements for vaccinated travelers.

Asked for comment on the Health Minister’s commitment, the Official Opposition provided a statement by transport critic Melissa Lantsman. “The government doubled down yesterday and said that travel measures were based on science and justified. Stop the political theater and do the right thing, today. Drop the out-of-step travel restrictions. ”

The travel and tourism industry, along with two infectious-diseases doctors, are calling for the federal government to remove what they call unnecessary COVID-19 restrictions on international travel, including predeparture and on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for fully vaccinated travelers.

In a news release Thursday, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable said Canada’s current travel restrictions are out of step with other countries, including Britain, Switzerland and Denmark, which have removed all testing requirements at their borders for fully vaccinated travelers. The statement was backed by the doctors.

“When first put in place, Canada’s travel rules were designed to keep COVID-19 out of the country. Now that the virus is here and community spread is responsible for approximately 99 percent of all infections, the rules governing travel are obsolete, ”said Zain Chagla, an infectious-diseases physician and associate professor at McMaster University.

Dominik Mertz, division director of infectious diseases at McMaster, said the predeparture and on-arrival PCR test requirement presents a challenge for those infected with Omicron because the tests often give positive results for weeks to even a couple of months after a person is no longer infectious.

“This policy is unnecessarily stranding Canadians abroad, leading to travel delays, financial penalties and potentially hazardous quarantine locations,” Dr. Mertz said.

The Canadian Airports Council said it supports the roundtable’s call for Ottawa to lay out a plan with a clear timeline for removing travel restrictions

“Science tells us that air travel is safe. It is time to get Canadians – and our economy – moving again, ”said interim president Monette Pasher in a statement.

Canada’s two main airlines are echoing the travel industry’s demand that Ottawa roll back restrictions, as they continue to cut flight schedules.

WestJet is joining Air Canada and Toronto’s Pearson airport in calling for randomized testing upon arrival only, rather than mandatory testing before takeoff and after landing for fully vaccinated international travelers.

WestJet said it also wants to see an end to quarantines for travelers awaiting results when they return from abroad.

With a report from The Canadian Press.

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