TORONTO — Easing travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers. Tightening travel restrictions for those who are not.
That was the bottom line message from an editorial from the Globe and Mail, posted this past weekend, with the end of this turbulent school year in sight and travel on the minds of many.
The Globe’s call comes as Canadians are increasingly signalling their acceptance of vaccination certificates, also known as vaccine passports, for international travel.
It also comes with just days to go before the G7 Summit in the UK, where vaccine passports will be on the agenda. Canada has signalled its intention to align any vaccine passport policy with that of its G7 counterparts.
The Globe first highlights the report from the COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel, which submitted its findings to the federal government last month. In that report, the panel indicated that Canada’s hotel quarantine requirement is an expensive, inconsistent policy that contains loopholes and should be eliminated. The report also called for implementing changes to testing and screening, and eliminating all quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers.
“Public attention zoomed in on the panel’s call to scrap the three-day hotel quarantine required of overseas travellers arriving by air. The mismanaged program, put in place in February after a year of Ottawa sitting on its hands, has never lived up to its billing,” says the Globe.
But as the editorial then points out, “this wasn’t a call to stop worrying about the import of the virus and variants across the border. Quite the contrary. As Canada edges toward all kinds of reopenings in the coming months, it’s important that they be done right. When it comes to the border, the panel’s key message was the need for different rules for people who are vaccinated, and those who are not. It’s all about managing risk.”
The EU is moving ahead with its Digital COVID Certificate, scheduled to launch July 1 and already in use in more than half a dozen countries including Greece and Germany. Travel has also restarted in the U.S., which cruise lines among the many travel companies requiring passengers and guests to be fully vaccinated.
Says the Globe: “Similar to the United States and the European Union, the panel recommended that vaccinated travellers – not all travellers – be exempted from quarantine. They would be tested on arrival, for surveillance purposes, but that’s it. The panel called for a system to verify the vaccination status of arrivals – perhaps something like the EU’s digital green certificate, which will be in use as of July 1.”
As the Globe notes, it’s all about managing risk. “What was missed in the coverage of the call to scrap the hotel quarantine is the fact that the panel underlined the necessity of continued quarantine rules for unvaccinated travellers. The panel did not propose that the unvaccinated be rewarded with a lightly enforced, on-your-honour home quarantine, or no quarantine at all.”
As rules are eased for those who are vaccinated, they will for a time have to remain for those who are not, says the Globe. “The goal should be making travel easier for the vaccinated – and more onerous, or at least as onerous as Ottawa originally promised, for the unvaccinated. This is the approach taken by places such as the Yukon – and soon, in provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador. Fully vaccinated arrivals will be rewarded with exemptions from quarantine. Unvaccinated people will have to quarantine. The choice is yours.”
There’s still the need to stay vigilant and to move ahead with second doses as quickly as possible. While the UK’s vaccination drive success story is held up by many as the path to emulate, the Globe notes that COVID cases numbers in the UK have been rising again because of the Delta variant first identified in India: “It has become the dominant form of the virus in Britain, and cases are quickly climbing. What looked like victory is not yet that, and there is a need to keep a careful guard up.”
As of June 4 the fine for hotel quarantine dodgers increased to $5,000. “Ottawa made the right move on Thursday by toughening its hotel quarantine system, and not scrapping it. As of June 4, the fine for evading the system will jump to $5,000, from $3,000. The feds may not have always run the hotel quarantine program well, but the basic concept of supervised quarantine is solid. And the $3,000 fine was low enough that, from mid-April to late May, 1,091 people chose to cough up the money rather than follow the rules,” says the Globe.
The bottom line? “For now, Canada has to stay vigilant at the border. That means easing restrictions on fully vaccinated travellers, while tightening the rules for those who are not.”