As U.S. border reopens, some think Canada should change its travel advice

U.S. border sign

News that the United States will re-open its land border with Canada and Mexico to fully-vaccinated travellers has some wondering whether it’s time Canada ended its own advice to discourage citizens from travelling.

Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley took the country’s politicians to task for jetting around the world to global conferences while admonishing ordinary Canadians from travelling.

“Telling your citizens to stay home and not travel while the leadership of the government racks up frequent flyer points is a lesson in hypocrisy itself,” wrote Lilley, adding that it’s time the government changed its messaging.

“I’m not arguing that these government leaders should stay home; they should surely be going to these summits, but my parents should also be free to visit Florida without the inference that they are ignoring government health advice,” he said.

The U.S. border will re-open in early November, but Canadians will still need to take a COVID test before returning home which is an added expense and hassle that may discourage some people from travelling.

The CBC reported that members of the U.S. Congress will ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of Parliament to drop the requirement

“Testing is redundant,” said New York Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat, Wednesday, adding that proof of vaccination should be enough.

Another obstacle for some visiting Canadians is what will the U.S. policy be to those with mixed vaccine doses?

The U.S. will accept fully-vaccinated travellers to enter the country if they received doses of WHO-approved vaccines, but have been vague about those with mixed doses.

The CDC says mixed doses of the two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are acceptable in “exceptional situations,” reported iPolitics, but it doesn’t accept a combination of AstraZeneca’s shot and an mRNA vaccine.

Of the 3.9 million Canadians with mixed vaccine doses, about 1.6 million got the AstraZeneca formula followed by an mRNA vaccine, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Canada reopening its borders to fully vaccinated international travellers

airport

Despite evidence that a fourth wave of COVID infections is gathering steam in Canada , the country is going ahead with plans to allow fully vaccinated international travellers to enter the country for non-essential reasons, such as tourism, as of September 7, 2021.

The federal government says the decision to ease entry requirements is based on the latest available data, scientific evidence and epidemiological situation both in Canada and internationally.

According to a statement from the Canada Border Services Agency, as the volume of travellers has increased in recent months, the border test positivity rate has remained low. Between August 9 and 26, the positivity rate for fully vaccinated travellers randomly selected for testing at the border was 0.19% (112 positive tests out of 58,878 completed).

While cases are currently increasing in Canada, the CBSA noted that illness severity and hospitalization rates remain manageable as Canada’s vaccination rates continue to rise.  This data along with continued adherence to public health measures by Canadians and incoming travellers, means that Canada is better able to prevent outbreaks of infection and can now allow more incoming fully vaccinated travellers without increasing the risk to the health and safety of Canadians.

The new rules will apply as of 12:01 a.m. EDT on September 7, 2021 and airports like Toronto’s Pearson are warning travellers to expect delays as they cope with the expected influx of visitors.

“We do expect to see an increase in international travellers as a result of this change, and we’ll continue working with our agency partners and airlines to best manage the flow of passengers,” the Greater Toronto Airport Authority told CTV News.

The GTAA said that  international travellers arriving at Pearson should prepare for the arrivals process to take one to three hours, or even longer, due to new COVID-19 screening measures that involves clearing the Canada Border Services Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada screening process.

According to the CBSA, fully vaccinated foreign nationals won’t need to submit to a COVID-19 test on arrival or enter quarantine, but they must meet these criteria in order to enter Canada:

  • Be fully vaccinated: a traveller must have received, and show proof of, the full series of a vaccine — or combination of vaccines — accepted by the Government of Canada at least 14 days prior to entering Canada. Currently, those vaccines are manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)
  • Have a valid pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test result taken no more than 72 hours before their scheduled flight or their arrival at the land border crossing, or a previous positive test result taken between 14 and 180 days before departure to Canada.  Antigen tests, often called “rapid tests” are not accepted
  • Be asymptomatic
  • Submit their mandatory information via ArriveCAN (App or website), including proof of vaccination in English or French and a quarantine plan
  • Be admissible under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
  • Be willing to take a COVID-19 test on arrival, if selected

While Canada will welcome foreign tourists as of Sept. 7, Ottawa continues to advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside of the country because international travel increases a person’s risk of exposure to COVID-19 and its variants, as well as of spreading it to others.

For fully vaccinated parents or guardians travelling with unvaccinated children under 12 years of age, the children are exempt from quarantine, but must follow enhanced public health measures, which includes not attending daycare or school for 14 days.

Unvaccinated children between the ages of 12-17 and dependent children 18 or older (due to a mental or physical condition) are permitted to enter Canada, but are subject to the 14-day quarantine.

All unvaccinated children (except those under 5 years of age) will remain subject to day 1 and day 8 testing requirements. Provinces and territories may have more stringent rules for people who have recently returned from travel.

For those who are not vaccinated, there are no changes to testing and quarantine requirements. Only those who are eligible to enter Canada such as those entering by right – Canadian citizens, permanent residents and persons registered under the Indian Act, can cross the border, but they remain subject to quarantine, all testing requirements (pre-arrival, upon arrival/day 1 and on day 8) and the mandatory submission of travel, contact and quarantine information via ArriveCAN.

Direct commercial and private passenger flights from India and Morocco are temporarily suspended.

Vaccine mandates for travellers is already a Canadian election issue

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

It didn’t take long for the topic of vaccine mandates for travellers and federal workers to become an issue in the Canadian federal election campaign.

“We chose to make sure that federal public servants and everyone boarding a train or a plane be vaccinated. Not everyone agrees. Not every political party agrees,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from the steps of Rideau Hall Sunday, just minutes after asking Governor General Mary Simon Sunday to dissolve Parliament so that an election could be held on September 20.

Canadians should be able to weigh in on that, and on so much more,” he said.

The following day, his main political rival, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said he opposes the mandate that would require public servants and travellers to be vaccinated and would instead institute rapid testing.

“What (Canadians) do not want is the politicization of the pandemic. Vaccines are not a political issue. To try and make them one is dangerous and irresponsible,” O’Toole told CBC News. “Conservatives will not engage in this attempt to drive a wedge between Canadians.”

The vaccination mandate could be enforced by the end of October.

According to a CBC News report, Liberal and NDP candidates must be fully vaccinated to run for election while the Conservative, Green and Bloc Québécois parties recommend them, but don’t require them, for their candidates.

The ruling Liberal Party has also said that it was working with Canada’s international partners on instituting a vaccine passport for international travellers and is working with the provinces to synchronize such a passport with their own provincial vaccination documentation systems.

Quebec was the first province to announce that it would institute a vaccine passport as an alternative to lockdowns, but many oppose the idea, saying that it will create two classes of people.

“This is a democracy and we need to conduct debates,” said Liberal Opposition Leader Dominique Anglade in the Montreal Gazette Saturday.

“Unfortunately there are a number of debates which we were not able to have in the last few months because the CAQ refused. An example of that is the (vaccine) passport. We should have had the debate months ago. We asked for it in May and they didn’t want to go ahead,” she said.

With the the fourth wave of the pandemic underway and likely to be surging throughout the campaign, it will be interesting to see how the parties’ messages evolve.

No standard ID yet for vaccinated travellers, but Canada is working towards an internationally-recognized system

woman receiving vaccination against COVID

The Canadian government announced Wednesday that it is collaborating with the provinces and territories to develop a proof of vaccination system that will facilitate cross-border travel, while still reducing the risk of spread and importation of COVID-19.

For Canadians who decide to travel, using a proof of vaccination will provide foreign border officials with the vaccination history needed to assess whether they meet that nation’s public health requirements and provide a trusted and verifiable credential for when they return home.

Currently, there is no international consensus on an acceptable proof of vaccination, but the federal government is working with international partners to recognize proof of vaccination credentials issued in Canada. Ottawa is continuing to participate in talks with the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the G7.

For now, travellers will be able to submit their proof of vaccination in ArriveCAN (mobile app or Canada.ca/ArriveCAN) when coming back to Canada. While the focus is on a digital proof of vaccination, the federal government has said that it will also make sure that these documents are accessible for all Canadians who may need to use them.

Destination countries determine if or what type of proof of vaccination is required and the related benefits that may be provided such as reduced or no testing or quarantine requirements. Canadians who do not have a proof of vaccination can travel outside the country, but they may have to quarantine or meet other requirements at their destination country, and they will be subject to mandatory quarantine and testing upon return to Canada.

Ottawa still advises against non-essential foreign travel, but for those Canadians who must travel, they recommend that they always check the Government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories, as well as the entry and public health requirements of their destination country, before booking a trip.

“Around the world, vaccination rates are increasing and countries are reopening their borders. We will continue our work with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners to provide Canadians with a secure and reliable proof of vaccination, which could be required for international travel. I encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to, ” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu in a prepared release.

One of the biggest obstacle for Canadians who have had mixed vaccinations against COVID-19 is that only a handful of nations recognize the practice. The Government of Canada said it continues to work with the World Health Organization and its international partners to share data proving the efficacy of a mixed vaccine schedule.

Canadians who currently need proof they were vaccinated can contact their province or territory for the record or receipt of vaccination if they don’t already have it. More information is available at Canada.ca/vaccine-proof.

Skytrax names new best airport for 2021

There’s a new world’s best airport, according to Skytrax which has handed out its World Airport Awards for 2021.

Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha, Qatar has been named the Best Airport in the World, beating out perennial winner Singapore Changi Airport which this year took third spot, just behind Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

Other winners included Istanbul Airport, which was voted the World’s Most Improved Airport, Changi Airport Singapore was recognized for having the World’s Best Airport Staff while’s Tokyo Haneda Airport was voted the World’s Cleanest Airport. In the 35 to 45 million passenger category, Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in China was considered the world’s best.

Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) also won awards for Best Airport in the Middle East, Best Airport 25 to 35 million Passengers, Best Airport Staff in the Middle East, and COVID-19 Airport Excellence.

“Inaugurated in 2014, Hamad International Airport has rapidly become a customer favourite and moved from No 3 in the world in 2020 to be ranked World’s Best Airport this year,” said Edward Plaisted of Skytrax.

“As travel hubs worldwide have been impacted by the pandemic, Hamad International Airport was undeterred by the global travel disruptions and continued with its expansion plans while introducing additional airport health and safety standards.”

In response to the pandemic, HIA accommodated changing traveller needs for increased sanitisation measures and contactless services by implementing advanced technological solutions. The airport retrofitted its existing services with touchless capabilities at key passenger touchpoints such as self-check-in, self-bag-drop and terminal elevators. It implemented its home-grown automated facial detection system to ensure the wearing of masks for all its staff.

HIA uses its Smart Screening Helmets for contactless temperature measurement and autonomous disinfectant robots that emitting concentrated UV light in high passenger flow areas to protect the airport environment.

Here in Canada, the nation’s three largest airports cracked the top 100 with Vancouver finishing in 24th, Toronto was in 38th place and Montreal was 63rd.

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