Feds aim to end COVID hotel stay, 14-day quarantines for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers

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By Rachel Aiello

OTTAWA -- Canadians who fly into the country and have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer be forced to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving, and will no longer have to stay in a quarantine hotel, as early as July.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced “phased” changes to the federal government’s pandemic border measures on Wednesday, following calls to end mandatory hotel quarantines and permit fully vaccinated Canadians to move around more freely.

However, seeing these changes become a reality will depend on whether there are any concerning fluctuations in new case counts and vaccination rates, as well as pending consultations with provinces and territories.

“These metrics are very important factors as we move towards implementing the changes on the border that we hope to have in place in early July,” said Hajdu.

Travellers who have completed their vaccination regime at least 14 days prior to their arrival in Canada will be considered fully vaccinated. Eligible travellers will be those who received a COVID-19 vaccine that has been authorized for use in this country, so: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, even though none of those single-shot J&J doses have been administered in this country to-date.

Eligible travellers will still have to show a negative pre-departure PCR test, and will have take a COVID-19 test upon arriving in Canada. Once in Canada, returning travellers will still need self-isolate until their most recent test result comes back negative.

The easing of restrictions will apply to any Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalled that changes were coming to Canada’s border measures for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, saying that a full vaccine regime is required to ensure more fulsome protection.

Hajdu said this first step in gradually easing travel restrictions comes after more than a year of sacrifices from Canadians who stayed home and cancelled important travel plans to abide by public health guidelines.

“If we can keep our communities safe and free of COVID, then we will not have to return to measures that are so difficult for everyone,” Hajdu said.

EASING AFTER 15 MONTHS

Non-essential international travel restrictions and mandatory 14-day isolation periods for returning travellers have been in place since restrictions were imposed when COVID-19 cases first started to surge in Canada in March 2020. The rules limiting who can come into Canada without having to self-isolate have been renewed each month since, with the latest orders set to expire on June 21.

With more people becoming fully vaccinated both in Canada and abroad, the Canadian government is under pressure to start to talk about how and when restrictions could change for those with two shots. Talks are ongoing with the U.S. about how specific border measures could be eased, given the increasing rates of vaccinations and decreasing virus spread in both countries.

The mandatory hotel quarantine element of Canada’s COVID-19 border measures was instituted in February, following an influx of holiday travellers, as a means to discourage non-essential international trips. The announcement received criticism when the government said that travellers would have to foot the $2,000 bill for their up to 72-hour stay, while they wait for the results of their PCR test.

In late May, just after the restrictions were rolled over for another month, Canada’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel called for an end of the hotel quarantine program for all travellers.

Comprised of infectious disease specialists and public health experts, the panel raised a series of issues with mandatory hotel quarantines, including that a number of travellers chose to pay the fine of up to $3,000 to skip the hotel stay, without presenting a legitimate quarantine alternative.

At the time, the panel also laid out an extensive framework for how to adapt quarantine and testing rules for those not vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and fully vaccinated arriving into the country.

For fully-vaccinated travellers the panel recommended that they provide “acceptable” proof of vaccination, as defined by the government, and the removal of the pre-departure test requirement. They still recommended a PCR test upon arrival only and no quarantine would be needed unless that on-arrival test was positive.

Just days ago, the federal government increased the penalty for those who choose to skip the hotel stay. Now, tickets issued by police for violations of the Quarantine Act will carry a maximum fine of $5,000.

—with files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer, Ryan Flanagan, and Sarah Turnbull

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