Unvaccinated tourists won't be welcome in Canada for 'quite a while,' PM Trudeau says

Amid calls to present a comprehensive border reopening plan before thinking about calling a federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that it’s going to be “quite a while” yet before Canada is ready to welcome in any tourists who are unvaccinated.

In response to a question from CTV News about when the tourism sector could start accepting vaccinated or unvaccinated travellers from abroad, Trudeau said: “I can tell you right now that's not going to happen for quite a while.”

“We need to continue to ensure that the safety of Canadians, of all the sacrifices that so many people have made over the past many, many months, are not for nothing,” Trudeau said Thursday during a press conference in British Columbia.

The prime minister said he doesn’t want to jeopardize the progress made in the fight against the pandemic by throwing open the border too quickly.

Earlier on Thursday, Ottawa business owners and the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable held a press conference imploring the federal government to put forward a plan that will allow the tourism sector to plan for what their summer travel season will look like.

“Business owners aren't picky, what they ask for is a plan that they can rely on, a plan that allows for preparation, for rehiring and for retooling, a predictable path forward that creates confidence for the future. And they need lead time to prepare,” said Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty. “Canadians need clarity and certainty, which today we don't have, and the goalposts keep moving. It's time to pick a goal, and to stick with it.”

Beatty said that because governments typically ease off of major decision making once an election is called, the industry is worried that if a border plan isn’t put in place soon, it may be months before one comes to fruition.

The industry stakeholders said that their sector has lost billions in revenue already, and the prospect of being closed for business for a second summer is hard to think about given the high vaccination rates among Canadians.

“What's been frustrating and infuriating is being on the government regulated yo-yo, not knowing if you're going to be open, when you're going to be open,” said Joe Kowalski, founder of Wilderness Tours. “The people that are making these decisions do not have a clue how the real world works.”

Earlier on Thursday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the Public Health Agency of Canada is currently looking at the data related to the updated policy that came into effect earlier this week, easing up on quarantine requirements for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and select others who are fully vaccinated.

“What is the test positive rate? And what are we finding in the actual travellers coming in right now in this in very initial precautionary phase?” Tam said. “That might then help us adjust the next phases moving forwards in terms of what's the testing regime that's appropriate for vaccinated travellers, for example.”

Trudeau was asked to, but did not commit to putting some goalposts in place for when even fully vaccinated foreign nationals could start visiting Canada, with the ongoing border restrictions continuing to limit non-essential travel for most.

The prime minister said that he understands the impatience to return to as much of pre-pandemic normalcy as possible but the government remains hesitant to put dates or timelines on the table for when the month-over-month extensions of the international and Canada-U.S. border restrictions could be lifted.

“Before we get to reflecting on what international travellers who are not fully vaccinated might be able to do… The next step will be looking at what measures we can allow for international travellers who are fully vaccinated. That will be our first focus, and we will have more to say in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said, promising continued aid for the tourism businesses.

“We will continue the reopening of our borders, but we will do it in a way that ensures the ongoing safety of all Canadians.”