Federal officials went into further detail about Canada’s strengthened travel restrictions on Friday (Feb 12), outlining new measures that will take effect this month.
As previously announced, starting Feb. 15, travellers entering Canada by land will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular (PCR) test result taken in the United States within 72 hours of pre-arrival (or a positive test taken 14 to 90 days prior to arrival).
In addition, as of Feb. 22, 2021, travellers entering by land will be required to take a COVID-19 molecular test on arrival as well as toward the end of their 14-day quarantine, the government announced on its website.
Ottawa will run 16 testing sites at point of entry across Canada.
New measures for air travel have also been confirmed.
Starting Feb. 22, all travellers arriving to Canada by air will be required to take a COVID-19 molecular test when they arrive in Canada before exiting the airport.
This aligns with information previously shared by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But now, air travellers (like land arrivals) must also take another PCR test at the end of their 14-day quarantine period – on day ten.
And, as previously reported, air travellers will be required to reserve, prior to departure to Canada, a three-night stay in a government-authorized hotel.
Travellers will be able to book their government-authorized stay starting February 18, 2021.
At the same time, starting Feb. 22, all travellers, whether entering Canada by land or air, will be required to submit their travel and contact information, such as their quarantine plan or hotel booking, electronically via the ArriveCAN app before crossing the border or boarding a flight.
“If you are travelling, it is your responsibly to understand and follow all of the rules,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said a press conference on Friday (Feb. 12).
Cost of hotel will vary
Health Minister Patty Hajdu joined Minister Blair in speaking to journalists to answer questions and clarify the new rules.
In regards to the hotel quarantine, travellers will need to book their hotel in the city in which they first arrive in Canada.
This may complicate matters for international arrivals who have connecting flights.
“If they receive a negative result on their arrival test, they will be able to take a connecting flight to their final destination [or continue any onward travel],” said Minister Hajdu.
If a traveller tests positive, they will be transferred to a federally-run quarantine site in the same city and their conditions will be monitored.
Public Health agency officials will conduct COVID-19 testing at airports and will assist in transporting travellers to their quarantine hotel.
The cost of staying in a hotel has previously been pegged at $2,000 for three nights.
However, Minister Hajdu confirmed that the cost between hotels may “vary slightly” at each location.
Quarantine hotels will be located near the four airports that are currently accepting arrivals – this being, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
It is up to the traveller to decide where they wish to stay and to book their stay in advance of departure, Minister Hajdu said.
The price of the hotel includes the cost of the room, cleaning, food, infection and prevention-control measures, transportation, and security, she said.
The day 10 PCR test
The newest addition to Canada’s travel restrictions is the PCR test travellers will need to take near the end of their 14-day quarantine, on day 10.
“They will need to contact their local public health authority and arrange for testing on day ten so they can be certain that they are not infectious at that point,” said Minister Hajdu.
Being vaccinated doesn’t matter (yet)
Vaccinated people will not be exempt from these measures, Minister Hajdu confirmed.
“The research is still developing and emerging around the reduction of infectiousness for people who may contract COVID-19, despite being vaccinated,” she said.
“We’ll be monitoring that very closely.”
This is a very different tone compared to the messaging recently shared by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.
This week, the CDC said quarantining is not required for fully-vaccinated people within three months of having received their last doses and as long as they do not show symptoms.
However, the CDC, too, recognizes that more research is needed, saying that it is “still uncertain” if a vaccinated person can spread COVID-19 to others.
What happens if you get your PCR test early?
The hotel quarantine stay has been framed around three days. However, if a traveller, by chance, receives their negative PCR test result earlier than that, they will be allowed to leave their hotel.
“The billing will be done through the hotels,” Minister Hajdu said. “[Hotels] will have the flexibility to adjust their billing as they see fit.”
If a couple is travelling together, and returning home together to complete their quarantine, they can share a room, confirmed Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc at Friday’s media conference.
Land vs. air borders
Minister Blair explained why the government can’t replicate the measures it has for air travellers at land borders.
Travellers entering by land won’t be required to quarantine in a hotel, for example, because there are "fundamental differences" between the two entry points, he said.
The government, for instance, is able to concentrate efforts at four airports, but it’s hard to replicate those measures at the land border because there are 117 points of entry.
“Many of those points of entry [by land] are located in remote, rural areas that are not readily accessible to hotels, for example, or other amenities that would be required,” he said.
The measures Ottawa is introducing in airports “aren’t possible” at land borders given the “existing infrastructure that’s available in those more remote point of entry,” Minister Blair said.
“Some [land entry points] are literally hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest motel,” he said.
Air and land borders also present two different legal environments, Blair noted.
The government can exercise some control when it comes to denying a passenger’s entry prior to boarding an airplane, he said.
Ensuring passengers show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, taken within 72 hours, before flying is one example of this.
However, when a person with a right of entry to Canada presents themselves at a land border, they’re already in Canada.
“We don’t have any ability to turn them back,” Blair said.
The two entry points attract different types of travellers, too. For instance, 93 per cent of people who cross at the land border are essential workers, such as truck drivers and nurses, Blair said.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau said there will be an exception made for essential travellers, such as truck drivers and health care workers, when it comes to enforcing the new rules.
“We will look at making necessary exceptions on a case-by-case basis,” Trudeau said, speaking in French. “Our goal is not to punish people [but] discourage non-essential travel.”
“With the presence of new [COVID-19] variants, stricter measures are needed."
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