Starting June 20, the federal government will suspend its COVID-19 vaccination requirement for domestic travel by airplane and train and for those who are leaving Canada by air.
But existing vaccination requirements for foreign nationals, as well as quarantine and testing requirements for unvaccinated Canadians, will remain in place, officials announced Tuesday (June 14).
“While the suspension of vaccine mandates reflects an improved public health situation in Canada, the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve and circulate in Canada and globally,” reads a statement on the government’s website. “Given this context, and because vaccination rates and virus control in other countries varies significantly, current vaccination requirements at the border will remain in effect.”
Lifting the mandate, which has been in effect since Oct. 30, 2021, will also apply to federally-regulated transport workers and federal employees.
But the eased restriction doesn’t apply to all forms of travel – vaccination requirements will remain in place for cruise ship passengers and crews “due to the unique nature of cruise ship travel,” the government stated.
Masking, as well, will still be enforced on planes, trains and ships.
The Government of Canada said it “will not hesitate” to make adjustments based on the latest public health advice and science.
This could include an up-to-date vaccination mandate at the border, the reimposition of public service and transport vaccination mandates, and the introduction of vaccination mandates in federally regulated workplaces in the fall, “if needed.”
“The mandatory vaccination requirement successfully mitigated the full impact of COVID-19 for travellers and workers in the transportation sector and provided broader protection to our communities,” stated Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport. “Suspending this requirement is possible thanks to the tens of millions of Canadians who did the right thing: they stepped up, rolled up their sleeves, and got vaccinated. This action will support Canada’s transportation system as we recover from the pandemic.”
The government says 32 million (or nearly 90 per cent) of eligible Canadians have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and case counts have decreased.
The update is expected to boost further surges in air passenger traffic, adding to the already-active return in demand for travel as consumer confidence – after more than two years of lockdowns and restrictions – returns.
Unvaccinated Canadians are also advised to read the fine print if flying internationally – some countries (like the United States) require foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated in order to enter.
Nixing the vaccine mandate will also let hundreds of suspended airport employees back to work, which will potentially will ease the long lines and wait times plaguing Canada's biggest airports – at Toronto Pearson, for one.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority says hundreds of workers are currently suspended without pay.
"While vaccination rates have been high throughout the Toronto Pearson worker community during the pandemic, there are hundreds of workers across the Pearson ecosystem who are sitting on the sidelines due to this policy, and in a situation where we could use every trained and able body to support our recovery, this represents a very positive development,'' the authority said, as reported by the Canadian Press.
"There is still work to do"
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, a coalition of industry leaders, called Tuesday’s announcement an “important step” as the sector continues to rebuild after “over two years of lockdowns, restrictions, and setbacks.”
But “there is still work to do,” the Roundtable said Tuesday as it called on Ottawa to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions governing the sector “to streamline further and ease passenger experience.”
The government, first and foremost, must stay focused on addressing operational issues at airports.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) requirements continue to control and check incoming passengers, which the Roundtable says is “causing significant delays in Canada's customs halls,” creating adverse “knock-on effects” across the travel experience.
The ArriveCan app should also be scrapped, the Roundtable says.
“Restrictions and roadblocks at the border are relics of a different phase of the pandemic and are no longer justified by science,” said the group, which is also calling on federal official to lift the mandatory mask mandate that applies to planes and trains.
"After two long, hard years, we are now focused on rebuilding tourism back to the economic powerhouse it was pre-pandemic. Today's announcement by the federal government is another step in the right direction towards helping us achieve that goal," said Beth Potter, president and CEO, Tourism Industry Association of Canada. "However, while this is good news for domestic and outbound travel, it does not address any of the current issues for inbound travellers or our cruise sector.”
“I urge the federal government to now turn its attention to eliminating barriers to travel in these important areas and do so quickly so we can promote a resurgence in travel over the summer months.”
Not enough to fix airport situation
Suzanne Acton-Gervais, interim president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation LP and WestJet, on Tuesday said the changes will "bring Canada closer to the emerging standard currently in place around the world."
But she stressed that they were not enough to resolve the situation at Canada’s airports and the complexity travellers face.
"Aviation is a global industry that relies on consistency, predictability and harmonization," Acton-Gervais.
She called on Ottawa to end the vaccine mandate for inbound international travellers "as more than 100 countries have done to date," make immediate changes to ArriveCan, "including eliminating duplicative health checks conducted by border officers which adds volume to customs lines," permanently extend the pause on arrival testing at airports (which is set to expire July 1) and commit to making the vaccine mandate changes permanent, which will provide "predictability and assurance for Canadian travellers around their travel plans and transportation employees regarding their future employment."