British Columbia

B.C. mom warns parents about international travel rules for kids

Children under 12 who aren't fully vaccinated must stay home from school, daycare and some other activities following international travel — however, they don't have to completely quarantine, according to the federal government.

Unvaccinated children don’t have to quarantine, but must stay home from school and daycare for 14 days

Before you travel abroad with children over the holidays, make sure you know all the rules around kids, travel and COVID-19. ( Nicoelnino/iStock)

A B.C. mom is warning other parents about rules around keeping children home after international travel — rules she wasn't aware of until she recently returned to Canada after a trip to California. 

Stephanie Meyer and her family went to Palm Springs for a week in mid-November for a short getaway after nearly two years of pandemic life. 

Meyer, her husband and their 13-year-old were all fully vaccinated. As vaccines weren't yet available for her younger children, ages two, five, seven and 11, they were not. 

She did as much research as she could; she checked the airline's website, the federal government website, watched the news, and said it all suggested no one in her family would have to quarantine upon returning to Canada.

Before heading home the whole family took PCR tests, all of which came back negative. 

As she arrived at YVR, she was handed an information package about their return home and what was required. That's when she learned she'd have to keep her young children home from school and daycare for two weeks. 

"We were caught off guard," Meyer said. 

"My husband and I had to scramble and try and figure out what we were going to do for the children that weren't vaccinated because all of a sudden they had to stay home from school for the next two weeks. So therefore, we have to co-ordinate with the principal and the teachers, some of whom were also caught off guard."

With the holidays approaching and families planning to leave the country to see friends and relatives they haven't been able to see in many months, Meyer worries other parents will run into this situation, and that many won't have the option to stay home with their children due to work and other commitments. 

Not technically quarantine

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says that any unvaccinated children under 12 are exempt from quarantine, which specifically includes staying inside your home, monitoring for symptoms and recording your temperature daily. 

From what Meyer understood before leaving, the kids could travel and would not have to quarantine when they got home as long as their parents were vaccinated. Which, technically, is true — kids don't have to quarantine. However they do have to stay home from school and daycare for 14 days, regardless of their test results. 

They also can't take crowded transportation, visit a place where vulnerable people are and must limit contact with others. The difference, it seems, is they can still, for example, visit a grocery store with a parent as long as they are wearing a mask. 

Public health says all unvaccinated children are subject to these requirements. 

But Meyer said it doesn't make sense that kids would have to stay home after taking three tests: one before leaving the U.S., another upon arrival at YVR and a third eight days after returning home.

"I think most families could deal with having to spend a week afterwards," she said. 

"But the two weeks is a real struggle, and I would assume that once people know about this ...  it will impact their travel plans."

The federal government didn't explain why kids have to stay away from school but can go into other parts of the community, even after a series of negative tests, other than to say that COVID-19 measures are based on scientific evidence.

"Like every other element of the Government of Canada's COVID-19 response, border measures are based on available data, scientific evidence and monitoring of the epidemiological situation both in Canada and internationally," a Public Health Agency spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

"Any decision to ease or modify border measures in Canada will be based on scientific evidence, and an assessment of domestic and international public health measures and in close consultation with provincial, territorial and international partners."

Airline responsibility

When asked about how they're informing customers of these rules before they buy tickets and board planes, WestJet said they do offer resources to help families plan for travel, especially since many Canadians may not have boarded a plane since 2019.

However, the company said it strongly disagrees with forcing children to stay away from school and daycare after international travel. 

"As confidence in travel continues to build, we very much sympathize with Canadian families who are planning or wishing to travel given our nations strong vaccination coverage and are being punished by Canada's discriminatory travel child policy," a spokesperson said.

"Since the introduction of the policy for travelling minors, WestJet has been tirelessly advocating to end the family travel ban put in place by the PHAC as it significantly disincentives travel for families and is undermining the recovery of our industry."

The company said air travel is the "most tested activity in Canada," and that the rule to stay home from school adds two weeks of cost for possible private child care or parents having to stay home, calling it "unacceptable."

Air Canada, on the other hand, told CBC News it's the customer's responsibility to make sure they know the rules and comply with public health measures. They pointed to their Travel Ready Hub, which connects customers to the government website for information on travel.

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