Saturday,  August 20, 2022  1:39 am

Vaccine mandate for travel should include review of outdated measures, industry says

Vaccine mandate for travel should include review of outdated measures, industry says
The National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) represents Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation and WestJet.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The travel industry is responding to Wednesday's (Oct. 6) announcement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that, starting Oct. 30, travellers flying on planes from Canadian airports, and riding trains, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“By the end of October, everyone 12 or older on a plane or train in Canada should be fully vaccinated,”  Trudeau told reporters yesterday. 

There will be a “short period” in which people who are in the process of getting vaccinated can show a negative COVID-19 test, but by the end of November: "Testing will no longer be an option before boarding," the PM said. 

The vaccination requirement applies 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, on voyages of 24 hours or more. 

(Click here for an official government backgrounder). 

In a statement, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable welcomed the "increased clarity" around the federal government's decisions. 

"The federal government's announcement effectively makes travel one of the safest activities in the country. With these measures in place, the transportation sector becomes one of the only sectors requiring fully vaccinated employees and customers," said Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada"Since the start of the pandemic, travel has been unfairly labelled as unsafe and risky. This announcement will help to increase passenger confidence." 

Now for vaccine passports

Now that Ottawa has announced details around mandatory vaccinations for travellers, the Roundtable is calling on Ottawa to implement a pan-Canadian proof of vaccination that would allow for the "harmonization, efficiency and interoperability" of vaccine certification programs in Canada, said Potter.

Trudeau, yesterday, said a vaccine passport for international travel will be ready in “the weeks to come" as Ottawa continues to work with the provinces, which hold the records on who is vaccinated and who isn't. 

In August, federal officials said fully vaccinated Canadians would able to obtain a vaccine certificate by “early fall.” 

The new credential, a system that will likely be built into the already-built ArriveCAN app, will be available to Canadian citizens, permanent residents and temporary residents if they’ve had a full series of a COVID-19 vaccine, officials said at the time. 

Review outdated measures

The Roundtable, a nationwide coalition of leaders in tourism and travel working to safely restart the sector, is also calling on the federal government to review outdated measures currently in place that were implemented before Canada became the most fully vaccinated country in the G20. 

These measures – such as the pre-departure PCR test and the blanket travel advisories warning Canadian against international travel – "continue to hamper many businesses in the Canadian travel and tourism sector," the Roundtable said. 

An "important milestone"

Yesterday, The WestJet Group said the news marked an "important milestone" towards becoming a fully vaccinated industry, which will lead to a safe restart of the travel and tourism sector.

"We are proud that more than 98 per cent of our workforce have self-declared their full-vaccination intent prior to the implementation of our airline’s mandatory vaccination policy," the company said. "As previously announced, effective October 30, 2021, WestJet and Swoop will become fully vaccinated airlines." 

The company will continue to advocate for the "recalibration of travel guidance and policies" that were implemented prior to the widespread availability of vaccines. 

"It’s critically important that these policies also evolve to reflect our transition to a fully-vaccinated company and fully-vaccinated Canadian airline industry," said The WestJet Group. 

"Vaccination is our best way out of this pandemic and we want to ensure the travel journey does not become more difficult for Canadians." 

"Timelines are very tight"

Mike McNaney, president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), which represents Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation LP and WestJet, said the NACC is "urgently looking forward to immediate engagement" with officials on the implementation details and proposed regulations - "including the responsibilities of government agencies." 

"Timelines are very tight to implement the travel rules," McNaney said in a statement. "While we are committed to effective implementation it is imperative that the federal government quickly develop a standardized and digital proof of vaccination for air travel." 

This, given that "consultations could not be held" during the election concerning mandatory vaccination for air travellers. 

McNaney said it is "imperative that the government work with us and determine what measures established prior to the full vaccination mandates can be amended, such as mandatory PCR testing pre-departure for fully vaccinated international travellers coming to Canada."  

In May the government’s own COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommended the removal of pre-departure PCR testing for the fully vaccinated, a move that would be consistent with the approach adopted by other countries including Germany, France, UK, Denmark.  

"Blanket federal travel advisories also need to be reconsidered," McNaney said, given that the new rules will require air travellers leaving Canada to also be fully vaccinated.

"As these new policies are implemented, Canada’s major carriers will maintain their ongoing support for vaccination campaigns, while continuing to invest heavily in the safe restart of travel and tourism in order to drive our national economic recovery in every region of the country." 

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