Trudeau says new travel restrictions will be introduced soon

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that new pandemic measures for travel are coming and Canadians should cancel any travel plans.

Prime minister says that importing even one case of COVID-19 is too much

Travellers wearing safety goggles, protective face masks and rain ponchos are seen heading to the international departure gates at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that new pandemic measures for travel are coming and Canadians should cancel any travel plans.

Trudeau said that even though existing travel control measures have been effective in keeping the number of infections low, more effort will be needed going forward. 

"Obviously, extremely low is still not zero and one case is too many if we're importing, particularly considering the variants out there," Trudeau said.

"Because we already have some of the strongest measures anywhere, we have to be very careful as we move forward on even further measures.

"One just has to remember that we are reliant on supply chains from around the world for food, for goods, for essential medications and we do not want measures that we are going to be bringing in ... to have an impact on those essential supply chains."

As an example, Trudeau pointed to the fact that essential cargo is often transported in the holds of passenger aircraft and he does not want to interfere with those imports.

The prime minister said his government is working "carefully and diligently" on new measures and will have more to say in the next few days.

Canada has had a ban on non-essential travel into the country by anyone who isn't a citizen or permanent resident since March, but it can't as easily bar the flow of Canadians in and out of the country.

Trudeau pointed out that most people who return from abroad must quarantine for two weeks and they face financial penalties or jail time if they do not. Most are also now required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in Canada.

That requirement went into effect on Jan. 7. Government data show that, since then, dozens of flights have landed in Canada carrying passengers who were later found to be COVID-19 positive.

As of last week, about 1.15 per cent of travellers arriving in Calgary and participating in a pilot COVID-19 testing program have been found to be infected with the virus. A similar project underway at Toronto's Pearson airport reportedly has a positivity rate of just over 2 per cent.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who had pushed the federal government to launch the testing program, is expected to visit the airport Tuesday.

More restrictions needed: Freeland

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC Radio's The Current today that while she would not say which new travel restrictions cabinet has been discussing, stronger rules on the border are needed to further discourage non-essential travel.

"We need to bring in even tougher border measures than the ones we have right now," she told host Matt Galloway. "I think Canadians are rightly concerned about these new variants and we need to do everything we can to keep them from getting into the country. Precisely how we do that is something the government is discussing and looking at very urgently right now."

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced earlier today that, starting Friday, anyone travelling into his province will have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine. 

"I really believe that where provinces and territories are acting to crush COVID-19, particularly now with these new variants out there, they will have the federal government's support," Freeland said.

Trudeau pointed to Canada's move on Jan. 7, 2021 to require all travellers over the age of five to produce proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken no longer than 72 hours before boarding a flight to Canada.

In the first two weeks after that measure was imposed, airlines saw at least 50,000 flight reservations cancelled.

The federal government announced the new testing regime following multiple reports of prominent Canadians — including political figures — travelling abroad for the holidays in defiance of government advisories against non-essential travel.

With files from The Canadian Press

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