June 21, 2022

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Canada’s travel restrictions: Vaccine mandates to board are ending

The Canadian government is dropping the requirement that domestic and outbound international travellers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, effective June 20. However, all re-entry requirements will remain in effect, and all passengers will continue to have to wear face masks.

This change will allow unvaccinated Canadians to board planes and trains heading to either domestic or international locations, but they will still be required to the current testing and quarantine requirements upon re-entry from international destinations.

Foreign nationals coming to Canada will still be required to be vaccinated in order to enter, though they would be able to depart the country if unvaccinated.

Further, “due to the unique nature of cruise ship travel,” the vaccination requirements for passengers and crew of cruise ships will remain in effect.

The requirement to use the ArriveCAN app will continue, and all travellers will have to continue to abide by other country’s entry requirements, potentially limiting the destinations unvaccinated travellers will be able to visit. Many countries, including the U.S., continue to require proof of vaccination upon entry.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos made the announcement on Tuesday, which also includes major updates to Canada’s vaccine mandates for transportation workers, and federal employees.

In revealing the updated policies, government says the mandates have been effective through the thick of the pandemic, but were never meant to be permanent. Though, should case counts climb again, federal officials say they won’t hesitate to reinstate any suspended COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The Canadian government says this move is coming now “following a successful vaccination campaign.” Nearly 90 per cent of eligible Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19.

“It’s clear that the COVID situation is not the same now as it was last fall when we implemented the vaccine mandate,” Alghabra said.

The federal mandates requiring all passengers on planes or trains to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before boarding were first promised by the Liberals during the last federal election, and came into effect in October 2021. 

In recent months, pressure has been mounting for the government to lift the travel vaccination requirements from opposition politicians and the travel industry, citing the significant strains and delays at Canadian airports, as well as the easing provincial public health rules.

Throughout these calls, the Liberals have defended the mandates, repeatedly referring to the need to follow the science and advice of public health officials.

On Tuesday, ministers said that the federal government’s “top priority” remains keeping Canadians safe, and that this decision is not related to easing the strain at Canadian airports, which they attribute to “staffing shortages.”

Rather, the ministers cited the virus’ evolution, the current epidemiological and modelling projections, and the high vaccination rate in Canada as key factors in lifting the mandates now.

Last week the government halted its mandatory random testing of vaccinated travellers at airports, but maintained the requirement for any unvaccinated travellers to be swabbed.

In order to be considered fully vaccinated under the federal policy, people have had to show proof of a full vaccination series, but not a booster dose, despite calls from public health officials to make a third dose part of the requirement to better protect against severe illness and to shore-up waning immunity.

On Tuesday, Duclos said the Omicron variant has made it evident that two doses “are no longer enough,” though the government is not going beyond encouraging those who have not yet received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to do so.

More reaction to come…