Ottawa lifts border vaccine mandates, mandatory masks on planes

Vancouver International Airport says it welcomes the relaxation of rules and expects it will help smooth operations

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Federal ministers say all COVID-19 border restrictions will end as of Saturday, including mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine of international travelers, as well as mandatory masks on planes and trains.

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The cabinet order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on Sept. 30.

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But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is once again warning that pandemic restrictions could be reinstated if they are needed.

“We have learned about the last (two-and-a-half) years the type of measures that can work,” Duclos said Monday. “We will therefore leave open all possible options when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Canadians.”

The change will mean foreign nationals no longer require an approved series of vaccinations to enter the country.

It also means Canada-bound travelers will no longer be subject to random mandatory COVID-19 tests, and unvaccinated Canadians will not need to isolate when they return to the country.

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Officials at Vancouver International Airport said Monday they are pleased the rules are being relaxed, and said it should help smooth operations for frustrated travelers and workers.

“After more than two years operating under a very complex series of changing regulations, today’s announcement is very welcome news for the traveling public, our community, and workers across the aviation sector,” said Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO at Vancouver Airport Authority.

“The removal of COVID-19 travel measures will improve passengers’ overall travel experience, assist our front-line employees, and allow more people to reconnect with loved ones and tourism experiences across the province and country.”

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Vrooman admitted YVR has “navigated various operational challenges amid a surge in travel demand and post-pandemic labor shortages” in recent months. Passenger volumes surged between January and August by about 170 per cent and domestic travel through Vancouver now surpasses pre-COVID passenger numbers.

Still, YVR fared better as far as delays, congestion and disruption than some other major airports worldwide, said Vrooman. As part of its effort to attract workers, YVR became a living wage employer earlier this year.

Cruise passengers will not have to do pre-board tests or prove they have been vaccinated.

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And people who enter the country after Saturday will not need to monitor and report if they develop signs or symptoms of COVID-19.

The five federal ministers making the announcement said the changes are informed by science and epidemiology, adding that modeling indicates the peak of the latest wave of the disease has “largely passed.”

But they did face questions about whether the move is at least partially politically motivated as the Liberals contend with the newly elected Opposition leader, Pierre Poilievre.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is still strongly recommending that people wear masks, particularly in crowded environments such as planes and trains.

“The science is clear: wearing a mask is clearly a means of personal protection that is extremely effective,” said Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief health officer. “I hope Canadians will make an enlightened decision about this.”

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Duclos said the negative attitudes of some passengers have made things very difficult for airlines and crews to enforce the mask mandate in recent months, and cited that as a factor in the decision.

“The transmission of the variants of COVID are domestic-based, for the most part, and therefore, this is what we should stress: masking is highly recommended — but it is not something that can be, in a sense, forced.”

That is a change in messaging from earlier in the summer, when the government and public health officials insisted that maintaining measures at the border was necessary to track and prevent the introduction of new variants.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said there have been 38 million entries at the border in 2022 so far, more than double the number in all of last year. “We want to keep that momentum going.”

Another change coming Oct. 1 is that the controversial ArriveCan app will no longer be mandatory. Federal officials say travelers can, however, continue to use the app to submit customs and immigration declarations before they arrive at certain airports.

The changes do not remove the quarantine or testing requirements for people who entered Canada before the order expires.

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