OTTAWA — In his COVID briefing today, asked about travel restrictions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave more positive indication that vaccination certificates are part of the plan for Canada reopening its economy and its borders post-COVID-19.
In light of the news earlier this week that the EU could be welcoming fully vaccinated Americans for travel this summer, Trudeau was asked about Canada’s own travel restrictions as Canada’s vaccination program continues to roll out.
The federal government has maintained that with the current vaccination rollout schedule, every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated by September 2021.
A reporter asked Trudeau: “We’re only about 5 months out from that timeline. As the EU and the U.S. [move towards reopening travel for fully vaccinated travellers], are you worried that fully vaccinated Canadians will be at a disadvantage?”
Trudeau said: “We continue to plan for how to reopen our economy, and our borders. Vaccination certificates have been a part of international travel for a long time. Naturally, it’s to be expected for international travel. How we roll that out is something we’re working on right now to coordinate.”
The reporter, looking to confirm whether or not vaccination certificates are in the cards for Canadians and international travel: “So that sounds like a yes?”
Trudeau responded that the government is focused on getting Canada through the third wave.
Earlier in the briefing Trudeau acknowledged the devastating toll the pandemic and Canada’s travel restrictions have had on the tourism and travel industry, impacting many Canadians and small businesses across the country.
He also said the government’s medical officers are “closely watching the impact of vaccination on the ability of the virus to spread.”
However he also added: “Once the time is right, we will open up with the borders, perhaps with the necessary vaccination certificates.”
They’re the latest small but important indications of the role that vaccination certificates could play in the reopening of Canada’s travel and tourism industries, and borders.
“DOESN’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY”
Amid rising calls for even more restrictions on travel, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, yesterday said that the oft-quoted statistic – that less than 2% of COVID cases can be traced back to travel – doesn’t tell the whole story.
Both Dr. Yaffe and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, were asked for their take on the need for more measures against travel.
The question came as Ontario has reportedly asked Ottawa for enhanced measures for interprovincial travellers.
Speaking at a briefing yesterday, Dr. Yaffe said: “They quote that less-than-2% statistic, but these cases then spread. Yes it’s a small percentage but it doesn’t indicate the burden of illness beyond that household.”
Dr. Williams added: “Toronto is such an international hub … I don’t think the [border measures and quarantine] system is as solid as it should be. We want to set up a better system.”
Unfortunately, said Dr. Williams, the variants are already in Canada. “It’s like trying to put the seatbelt on while the car is rolling. At that point, it’s too late.”
But, he added: “These variants are quite different. Be very cautious. We’ll do our part, you continue to do your part.”
ONTARIO’S ASK: PCR TESTING FOR DOMESTIC AIR TRAVELLERS
Ontario has already closed its Quebec and Manitoba boundaries to non-essential travel,
However there are currently no measures in place to protect provinces from the spread of COVID-19 variants through interprovincial air travel, an area of federal responsibility.
Now the province is asking for mandatory pre-departure PCR testing for all domestic air travellers entering Ontario, an extension to current rules for international passengers seeking entry into Canada.
A letter was sent yesterday to the federal ministers of health and public safety. The letter says there have been 17 domestic flights in the past two weeks to Toronto’s Person International Airport with possible COVID-19 exposures.
It adds there have also been potential exposures on flights landing at other Ontario airports, including Ottawa and Hamilton.
“Over 70% of daily cases in Ontario have been confirmed as variants of concern,” said the letter, signed by Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
“These variants entered through our borders, both international and domestic, and it is critical that every effort is made to keep them out.”
The letter says it is crucial that the transport of essential goods is not hindered by border measures, but “it is likewise crucial that all non-essential travel be curtailed.”
“The introduction of stricter pre-departure testing measures, in addition to providing an extra layer of protection for interprovincial travellers, is a significant step to achieve that goal and ensure that collectively we are doing all we can to protect our citizens,” the letter reads.
“These new measures should be in place for as long as necessary, or until the risks of new variants in Canada have been effectively minimized.”
With files from The Canadian Press