On the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive order to tighten travel restrictions as part of America’s national COVID-19 response strategy, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau has revealed that Canada is looking at introducing COVID-19 testing along the Canada-U.S. land border.
President Biden, on Jan. 21, signed a burst of orders that included a request for U.S. agencies to talk with Canada and Mexico about COVID-19 protocols at land ports of entry.
The U.S. is also expected to make quarantining a mandatory requirement for all international arrivals.
Top official have less than two weeks to present a plan to President Biden to put appropriate public health protocols in place.
"We will engage in a very serious way with the U.S. administration on how best to deal with land borders," Minister Garneau told CBC's Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday (Jan. 24).
The former transportation minister outlined a number of possible measures Canada could take to protect Canadians amid the global pandemic.
Enhancing safety measures at the border “would be easier to do,” said Garneau, “if we have quick tests that can be done because it's a little bit more challenging to do testing at the border.”
Still, the Minister said it’s something Ottawa is “looking at very seriously.”
"As quick tests come along, that makes a big difference because there are challenges with respect to…certain land border points being very congested. And meanwhile, there's a huge amount of traffic flow that has to keep going,” Garneau told CBC.
The Canada-United States land border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020.
Federal officials have been extending the ban on a monthly basis, 30 days at a time. The expiry date for the latest extension is set for Feb 21, 2021.
While the land border between the two countries remains closed, Canadians can still travel to the U.S. by flying.
Emergencies Act under consideration
Garneau also told CBC that the federal government won’t entirely rule out invoking the Emergencies Act to further restrict non-essential travel.
The Emergencies Act give cabinet the power to regulate or prohibit travel "to, from or within any specified area, where necessary for the protection of the health or safety of individuals."
"We are looking at all potential actions to make sure that we can achieve our aims. The Emergencies Act is something you don't consider lightly," Garneau told CBC.
Tougher rules are coming
Regardless, Ottawa is on the verge of announcing stricter travel rules, according to recent statements made by various top officials.
Last Friday, (Jan 22), Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told French morning show Tout un matin that Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine order is one restriction currently under review.
“There is no doubt that the quarantine measures and the question of screening tests on arrival, for example, will be greatly strengthened," said Minister LeBlanc, who also suggested the notion of centralizing where planes arrive in the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously said that he is open to tightening the screws on travel rules as COVID-19 variants begin to circulate around the globe.
Trudeau, also on Friday, said that his government is considering new measures that may include making quarantining at a hotel mandatory for all travellers.
Though nothing is confirmed yet, Trudeau referenced his own words of warning that Canada’s travel restrictions could change at any time and without warning.
“These measures will make it more difficult for Canadians to come home after a trip,” Trudeau told reporters last week.
On Jan 15, Trudeau said his government is looking at banning certain flights, “if necessary,” as coronavirus variants continue to spread.
Pressure from medical community
Ottawa currently faces pressure from the medical community to strengthen the country’s travel and testing rules.
Recently, more than 100 epidemiologists, virologists, doctors, scientists and health care professionals signed a report outlining the danger posed by COVID-19 variants.
"Existing travel and border protocols have not prevented the importation of COVID mutations into Canada. Delays in significantly reducing this risk could be ruinous,” reads the document, entitled Shielding Canadians from Variants of Concern.
Among the report’s recommendations include restricting international travel to essential travel only, testing all travellers immediately upon arrival, enhancing quarantine measures (ie: using designated hotels) and vaccinating truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. land border. (Click here to read the full report).
Trudeau is expected to make a formal announcement on new travel restrictions this week.
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