Jun 7, 2021
Canada set to relax quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is preparing to ease Canada’s border restrictions for travelers who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The government is crafting plans to loosen the current 14-day isolation period for border-crossers who’ve had two vaccine doses, said the people, speaking on condition they not be identified. Travelers entering Canada would still be tested for the virus and may be required to quarantine for a shorter period.
The plan is expected be announced within days, though the timing could shift, according to the people. It isn’t clear when the changes would be implemented or whether Canada will open up its borders to non-U.S. travelers at the same time.
Pressure has been growing on the Canadian and U.S. governments to relax restrictions that have been in place since March of last year, dramatically reducing land and air traffic between the two countries. A pact that limits non-essential travel is due for renewal on June 21.
Stakeholders and government officials say there’s a sense of urgency now, given that it may be the last opportunity to open up the border in time for the summer season. An extension of the measures for another month would be a huge blow for the tourism sector, restricting movement for the July 1 national holiday in Canada and the July 4 weekend in the U.S.
“Businesses need time to plan,” Mark Agnew, a vice president at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said by phone. “Tell us what the road map and the plan and the metrics are.”
The restrictions have hit the nation’s tourism and airline sectors particularly hard -- one estimate says the measures cost those industries about CUS$20 billion (US$16.5 billion) in revenue last year.
There are deep economic and cultural links between the two countries that have been interrupted by the travel ban, particularly along the border. Pre-pandemic, Canadians made on average more than 1 million same-day car trips into the U.S. every month. That’s down to just over 100,000 per month over the last 12 months.
The prime minister’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
A Canadian government advisory panel last month recommended that fully vaccinated travelers be exempt from quarantine and that a three-day “hotel quarantine” for airline passengers be scrapped.
While the border restrictions are a product of bilateral negotiations with the U.S., much of the resistance to opening the border has been on the Canadian side, where Covid-19 lockdowns have been more severe and prolonged. That’s fueled reluctance to relax rules.
Step by Step
The looser restrictions for vaccinated travelers will be part of a phased reopening that would be gradual and contingent on declining cases in both countries, officials have said. Trudeau alluded to a step-by-step reopening Monday in a virtual appearance to a business audience in Newfoundland, according to the Canadian Press.
“If you can’t get your hair cut and can’t see your parents, how could you feel comfortable about opening up the border to foreign travel,” Nik Nanos, a pollster with Nanos Research Group, said.
Trudeau has mentioned a 75 per cent vaccination rate as a key threshold when asked about potentially reopening the border. More than 60 per cent of Canadians have received a first dose with about 8 per cent fully vaccinated, according to data tracked by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. In the U.S., 51.6 per cent have had their first shot and 42.1 per cent have had two, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Active cases in both countries have plunged.
Overall, 53 per cent of Canadians are at least somewhat uncomfortable with lifting travel bans, according to a survey by Nanos for Bloomberg News. Opposition is strongest among women and seniors, with the biggest resistance in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic provinces -- all critical demographics for Trudeau politically.
At the same time, opposition to opening the U.S. border appears to be waning. It had been closer to 80 per cent earlier in the crisis, Nanos said. The more Canadians are vaccinated, the more resistance will dissipate, he said.
Canadians appear to be less willing to open up travel for countries other than the U.S. The Nanos poll found 68 per cent of Canadians were at least somewhat uncomfortable with opening up to these countries.
The Nanos poll was a hybrid phone and online survey of 1,029 people in Canada, conducted between May 30 and June 2. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.