The government will lift all border restrictions related to COVID-19 as of Oct. 1, including masks on planes, vaccine requirements and health checks, warning the pandemic is not over but that the threat from domestic sources of the virus outweighs infections from international origins.
Federal ministers at a press conference on Monday urged Canadians to continue wearing masks in crowded indoors spaces and to get their shots against COVID-19, but said Ottawa is set to remove the border measures as the peak infection wave passes and the vaccination rate remains high.
“We’ve always maintained the measures at border and planes and trains and boats were temporary and we would adjust as the situation changes,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said at a news conference on Monday morning.
Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety, said travellers can still use the ArriveCan app to upload travel documents, but are not required to do so.
“We’ve emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever. That is why we are able to announce this important step today,” Mr. Mendicino said.
As of Oct. 1, travellers of all citizenship entering Canada no longer have to submit public-health information through the ArriveCan app or website, provide proof of vaccination, or undergo pre-entry or arrival testing for COVID-19. They also won’t have to carry out COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation, or monitor and report if they develop signs or symptoms of COVID-19 upon arriving to Canada.
For domestic travel, passengers will no longer have to undergo health checks for travel on air and rail, or wear masks on planes and trains.
“Although the masking requirement is being lifted, all travellers are strongly recommended to wear high-quality and well-fitted masks during their journeys,” the government said in a statement.
People who arrive in Canada infected with COVID-19 will be advised by border officials to quarantine in accordance with local public-health regulations.
Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos said cases are rising in the fall as people spend more time indoors, and infections are expected to continue to increase. The pandemic is not over, he said at a news conference in Ottawa.
He said between 4,000 and 5,000 people are hospitalized in Canada with COVID-19, and 10 per cent of the country’s hospital capacity is dedicated to patients with the coronavirus. He also pointed to the burden borne by health care workers.
Wearing a mask remains an easy way to limit the spread of the illness, he said, adding he was confident people would continue to do so in some situations.
But he pointed to Canada’s high vaccination rate – 85 per cent of eligible people have received two doses – the wide availability of rapid tests, and data showing the main source of COVID-19 is not international, but domestic.
“That’s where we need to focus our efforts,” Mr. Duclos said.
The announcement was welcomed by Canada’s travel, aviation and business communities. Canada’s move to retain COVID-19 measures at borders and airports for longer than most countries has delayed the recovery in many parts of the economy, said Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.
The Canadian travel industry has for months urged the government to drop mask, vaccination and other requirements, saying Canada is out of step with most of the world. The summer of 2022 was marked by chaos at the country’s major airports, as a surge in travellers ran into a shortage of workers and time-consuming public-health measures.
Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet Airlines’ chief executive officer, said in a statement the government’s move underlines that air travel is no less safe than other consumer activities. Dropping the restrictions will speed the recovery of the aviation industry and the broader economy, he said.
“We are relieved our guests can finally travel with additional confidence and certainty, knowing they can make decisions that are the best for them, and their travel plans won’t be interrupted,” Mr. Hoensbroech said.
WestJet had called the mask policy on airplanes “increasingly unenforceable.”
In 2022, WestJet employees dealt with more than 1,100 passengers who refused to wear a mask, situations that caused one plane to return to its departure point, and 74 flights that were disrupted to eject unruly travellers.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said Canada’s mask rules were not matched by other countries. “While the vast majority of our customers continue to comply, enforcement is presenting challenges for our employees and places an unfair burden on them as these regulations are largely no longer seen as reasonable by many travellers,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said.
Air Canada’s share price on the Toronto Stock Exchange rose by 2.5 per cent Monday.
U.S. President Joe Biden last week declared the pandemic over, surprising even his own advisers and drawing criticism for making the pronouncement even as the seven-day average of new U.S. cases hovers around 54,000. The U.S. has not dropped the requirement visitors be vaccinated.