Canada has extended its restrictions on non-essential international travel until July 21, federal officials have confirmed.
Also until that date, the Canada-U.S. land border will remain closed to non-essential travel.
The deadline for ending restrictions at the land border was set for this Monday, June 21.
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair broke the news on his Twitter account on Friday morning (June 18).
"Our number one priority as we fight #COVID19 is keeping Canadians safe. In coordination with the U.S., we are extending restrictions on non-essential international travel and with the United States until July 21st, 2021," Blair tweeted.
Blair added that the government is planning measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents, and others who are currently permitted to enter Canada and "will provide further details on Monday, June 21."
“We’re not out of this pandemic yet"
Confirming the news with reporters from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government extended the restrictions because “we’re still seeing cases across the country.”
“We’re not out of this pandemic yet,” Trudeau said.
The target, he said, is to get 75% of Canadians vaccinated with the first dose and at least 20% vaccinated with a second dose “before we can start loosening things up.”
“Even fully vaccinated individuals can pass on COVID-19 to someone who is not vaccinated,” he said. “That means we have to really make sure that not only people who are fully vaccinated can travel, but the communities to which they will return are not at risk.”
Vaccine certification system coming
Confirming earlier reports, Trudeau said the government is working on a two-track system for providing proof of vaccination for Canadians who wish to travel.
The initial phase, which is set to begin in July, will work using the ArriveCAN app arrive, Trudeau said.
The ArriveCAN app is a mobile tool, launched last year, that requires travellers to submit their contact information, COVID-19 symptom self-assessment and quarantine plan before boarding their flight to Canada.
Vaccinated travellers, using the app, will be able to upload an image of their paper or emailed proof of vaccination so border agents can verify that they are, indeed, fully vaccinated.
“That’s something we’ll have in place in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said, “so people can have a few more options, if they’re fully vaccinated, this summer.”
By fall, Canada will have a national certification of vaccination system that “will be easily accepted around the world for people who need to travel internationally,” Trudeau said.
The federal government is working with the provinces on this project because provinces oversee health data and vaccination status, Trudeau said, noting that the federal government “doesn’t have records of vaccination.”
Changes coming soon
On June 9, Ottawa announced that it will soon relax quarantine measures for some travellers that have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for at least 14 days.
This includes the discontinuation of mandatory hotel quarantine and the 14-day self-isolation order for eligible travellers, which includes Canadians, permanent residents, essential workers and foreign students.
The exemption will not apply to tourists or foreign business travellers that aren’t essential workers.
Eligible travellers will still be required to obtain a negative pre-departure PCR test, undergo a PCR test on arrival and quarantine, at home, until a negative test result is processed.
The changes will only apply to those who have received a full vaccine approved by Health Canada (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson).
What is Canada going to do with those travellers who haven’t been vaccinated by one of the four approved brands?
“It’s certainly something we will have to resolve before we reach that moment of reopening to foreign travellers and people coming into country,” Trudeau told reporters. “I can assure you our medical community and experts are looking very carefully at that.”
W.H.O.-approved vaccines may be a “path forward for the world," he said.
What about kids?
The question of how customs will screen children for proof of vaccination also came up.
A reporter illustrated a scenario where Mom and Dad are vaccinated, but their children, who are seven and eight, for example, have not qualified for a vaccine program.
How would a family like this qualify for skipping hotel quarantine?
This is something that is “posing a bit of challenge,” Trudeau admitted.
“At this point, there aren’t vaccines we’re delivering that are approved for kids under 12,” he said. “We’re hoping this will change by the end of the summer.”
Kids are a “much lower risk for complications from COVID-19 and hospitalization,” he said, “but they can still transmit and carry COVID-19.”
What about the panel?
A reporter asked Trudeau why he wasn’t listening to the science-based advice outlined by his own “COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel,” which, last month, released several recommendations on easing border and hotel quarantine rules.
“The reality is, we are following the advice of a range of experts,” Trudeau said.
The element that people “overlook” when it comes to fully vaccinated travel is that having both doses of a vaccine doesn’t protect the community from catching the virus, he said.
“It’s not just about saying you’re fully vaccinated – ‘have fun, run around’ – it’s about saying you’re returning to a country where we haven’t yet reached high enough thresholds of second-dose vaccination.”
“We’re getting there quickly, but that’s why we’re looking at a phased approach to easing border restrictions," he said.
As of Friday morning, 65.4% of the Canadian population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 16.4% is now fully vaccinated.
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