The transition period that has allowed unvaccinated travellers to board a plane or train in Canada by presenting a negative COVID-19 test ended today (Nov. 30) at 3:01 am EST.
The Government of Canada’s vaccine mandate for travel came into effect Oct. 30, applying to air passengers flying on domestic, transborder or international flights departing from airports in Canada, rail passengers on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains and marine passengers on non-essential passenger vessels, such as cruise ships.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, gave unvaccinated individuals who may have been in the process of being vaccinated an extra month to complete their full series of COVID-19 shots.
Throughout November, unvaccinated individuals were allowed to board planes and trains just as long as they presented a negative molecular COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before their trip.
That allowance period, however, has now ended and individuals over the age of 12 who are not vaccinated will no longer qualify for travel.
Proof of vaccination is now, essentially, one's boarding ticket. "If you indicate to your airline or railway company that you're eligible to board, but fail to provide proof of vaccination or valid COVID-19 test result, you won't be allowed to travel and could face penalties or fines," the government's website states.
Trudeau has previously said there will be a few “extremely narrow exceptions” to the rule, like a valid medical condition, for unvaccinated individuals who want to travel this winter.
Individuals travelling to remote communities only accessible by plane or transiting through Canada to another destination are among those who are exempt. And most who qualify for an exemption will need to present a recent COVID-19 test.
But Transport Canada, in an email to PAX in October, said that most people, by the end of November, will need their full series of COVID-19 shots in order to travel.
“By November 30, all travellers aged 12 and up must be fully vaccinated with very limited exceptions,” wrote Frédérica Dupuis, senior advisor, media relations, communications group at Transport Canada, in an email.
To assist with the mandate, the federal government, in October, launched a standardized proof-of-vaccination document, which has been distributed by provinces and territories for domestic and international travel.
Air Canada and WestJet both confirmed with the Canadian Press that, starting today, they will be asking for proof of vaccination from everyone, tightening up the process, which, so far, has consisted of random spot checks.
Omicron arrives in Canada
The stricter travel requirement kicks in as Canada, and the world, reacts to the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Canada, last week, announced a new travel ban prohibiting entry by foreign nationals from several countries in southern Africa, where the variant was first identified by researchers.
As a “precautionary measure,” until Jan. 31, 2022, Ottawa has implemented enhanced quarantine and testing measures for all travellers who have been in the Southern Africa region — including South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia— within the last 14 days before arriving in Canada.
In addition: foreign nationals who have travelled in any of these countries within the previous 14 days will not be permitted entry into Canada.
“I know that this new variant may seem concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our communities,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a statement over the weekend.
As of yesterday (Nov. 29), Canada reported five cases of the Omicron variant – four in Ottawa and one in Quebec.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube told media that 115 travellers coming from countries affected by the new variant, primarily South Africa, were called and asked to isolate and test for COVID-19, Reuters reported.
While more research on Omicron is needed, the World Health Organization (WHO) says “the overall risk related to Omicron is considered very high for a number of reasons.”
"There is concerning preliminary evidence on Omicron suggesting, in contrast to previous [variants of concern], both potential immune escape and higher transmissibility that could lead to further surges with severe consequences,” the organization said.
Health Minister Duclos and counterparts from other G7 countries agreed on Monday to closely monitor and share information about the Omicron variant.