Government eases some COVID-19 travel measures, but not masking on planes
Government 'will continue to consider further easing of measures at the borders': health minister
The federal government is winding down some COVID-19 border measures for travellers arriving in Canada — but top public health officials said the government isn't budging when it comes to masking on planes and vaccine mandates for domestic travel.
In a news release Friday, the government announced public health measures will be eased for some eligible travellers starting Monday, April 25.
Fully vaccinated travellers will no longer be required to provide a quarantine plan upon entry, and unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children aged five to 11 who are accompanied by a fully vaccinated parent or guardian will no longer have to undergo a COVID-19 test for entry to Canada.
"The health and safety of Canadians remains our top priority and as vaccination levels and health care system capacity improve, we will continue to consider further easing of measures at the borders based on science," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in the release.
A number of other measures will also be eliminated next week. The government will no longer require fully-vaccinated travellers to mask in public spaces for 14 days following arrival, or to maintain a list of close contacts and locations visited.
But while the government is pulling back on some measures, it's standing firm on others, such as mandatory masking on planes and trains.
"Although some restrictions may be easing, air and rail travellers are reminded that they are still required to wear a mask throughout their travel journey," Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in the release.
"Wearing a mask offers an extra layer of protection for you and your fellow travellers, and will help keep Canadians, workers and our transportation system safe."
WATCH | Public health officials say mask mandates will stay in place for travel
In a COVID-19 update Friday, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said she approves of maintaining the masking requirement for planes — at least for now.
While masks may be inconvenient, she said, they're an additional layer of protection while travelling and do not restrict travel.
"If you're going to be travelling with people in a certain environment, I think it is prudent to continue to require wearing a mask," she said.
"So I think it's one of the least intrusive measures, but adds, definitely, another layer of protection."
The government also has no plans to end vaccine mandates for travellers.
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said vaccination remains the best protection against the virus.
"At the end of the day, I think everyone is in agreement that vaccines are still our major tool, a major layer of protection," he said.
WATCH | Njoo discusses easing pandemic travel restrictions
Njoo also said that while certain border measures are easing, it's important to maintain the infrastructure which helped health officials test and screen travellers for the virus.
"[If] COVID-19 takes a turn for the worst and we need to readjust and go back to a different regime, maybe similar to what we might have had before, we're ready to do that," he said.
The United States government extended a rule today that says non-U.S. citizens crossing land or ferry terminals at U.S.-Canada borders must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Hospitalization rate seems manageable, Tam says
Tam said that although there were signs of COVID-19 nearing a peak in some jurisdictions across Canada prior to the Easter holiday, the Omicron variant's virulence creates uncertainty.
"It is still too soon to tell whether our long weekend activities could lead to another bump ahead," she said.
While Tam says there's been an increase in hospitalization, severe cases are still relatively rare.
"Although concerning, the recent rise of hospitalization rates in several jurisdictions appears to be manageable, with critical care still trending at low levels," she said.
"We remain hopeful that the increase in transmission rates over the last several weeks will not result in as heavy an impact on hospitalizations trends as seen during earlier waves."