Starting today (Aug. 9), fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents of the United States will, for the first time in 17 months, be permitted to enter Canada for non-essential travel and skip quarantine.
Eligible visitors must live in the U.S. and be fully vaccinated, with a Health Canada-approved vaccine, for at least 14 days.
Americans – entering Canada by both land and air – must also show proof of a negative 72-hour molecular COVID-19 test and use the ArriveCAN app, or this online web portal, to upload their vaccination documents.
Those who have recovered from COVID-19, and are eligible to enter Canada, will be allowed to show proof of a positive molecular test taken between 14 and 90 days prior to entering.
Post-arrival COVID-19 tests will still be administered. However, they will be issued on random basis only.
The easing of border rules, part of a phased reopening strategy laid out by the Canadian government, is set to provide some much-needed relief for local tourism businesses that saw staggering declines in customer traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Thomas Reid, an operations manager for Palatine Hills Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, which is a close drive to the U.S. border, told The Globe and Mail on Aug. 8, the absence of American tourists has had a “significant impact on our bottom line, without question.”
But Reid is also setting realistic expectations, saying that he doesn’t expect a rush of American customers right away.
“I’m a lot more cautiously optimistic about a gradual increase than a massive uptick right away,” Mr. Reid told The Globe.
Americans represent the largest group of international arrivals to Canada, making up nearly 15 million visits and $11 billion in spending in 2019, according to Destination Canada.
The Canada-U.S. land border – the world’s longest international border crossing, measuring 8,900 kilometres – closed to non-essential travel in March of 2020 as governments scrambled to halt the spread of COVID-19.
But the reopening is not reciprocal – the U.S. side of the land border is still closed to non-essential traffic until at least Aug. 21 (although Canadians, throughout the pandemic, have been allowed to enter the U.S. by air).
Given Canada’s low COVID-19 case counts, reopening the border to Americans who have had their full series of shots “is the right step to do,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at a news conference on July 27.
“The health data is fairly clear that encouraging or allowing for travel of fully vaccinated individuals is low risk. It’s not zero risk, but it is low risk,” Trudeau said at the time.
Next, the Canadian government plans to allow fully vaccinated visitors from other parts of the world to return, starting Sept. 7.
Delta variant ravages U.S.
The decision to loosen border rules for American visitors, in the shadow of a potential fourth wave, comes as the United States grapples with soaring COVID-19 case counts that are mostly linked to the highly-contagious Delta variant.
The U.S., currently, is reporting a daily average of 100,000 cases of the virus as vaccination rates in some of the country’s hardest-hit regions, such as a Florida and Louisiana, remain low.
Speaking to media last week, Canadian Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the average number of daily COVID-19 cases, in Canada, has actually increased by 54 per cent.
Tam noted that infections are primarily concentrated among unvaccinated people, reiterating that fully vaccinated travellers are still considered low risk.
She said the government will continue to monitor the situation as border traffic increases.
"We're taking a precautionary, phased approach to the border reopening," Tam said last Thursday (Aug. 5). "If we see any significant concerns, of course, we can adjust accordingly."
Other changes that kick in today
Several other changes to Canada’s travel restrictions kick in today.
Unvaccinated children under the age of 12 and travelling with fully vaccinated parents, for one, are now allowed to skip quarantine.
“This means they can move around with their parents, but must avoid group settings – such as camps or daycares – during the first 14 days after their arrival,” reads a notice posted on the Government of Canada’s website.
Unvaccinated children will still remain subject to Day 1 and Day 8 testing requirements.
Older unvaccinated children will still have to quarantine, but those under age 12 get a pass because that age group, currently, cannot get vaccinated.
Pre-boarding temperature checks on all domestic flights and international departures (including Transborder) will be eliminated today, Transport Canada confirms.
And finally, the government’s controversial three-night hotel stopover program officially ends for all travellers arriving by air.
But unvaccinated travellers must still undergo Day 1 and Day 8 molecular testing and complete a mandatory 14 day quarantine.
For a detailed backgrounder on Canada's eased travel restrictions, click here.