Canada is making great progress on the COVID-19 vaccination front, with nearly 65% and 10% of the population having received one or both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, respectively.
With many parts of the world slowly opening up to international tourism, Canada is similarly planning to relax its border restrictions over the course of the summer.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu confirmed this week that we could see an elimination of the three-day hotel stopover and a reduction of the 14-day hotel quarantine as soon as early July.
Let’s take a look at the details we have so far, with further updates to come in the next few weeks.
Reduced Quarantine for Fully Vaccinated Canadians
As per Minister Hajdu’s comments, Canada’s travel restrictions will be loosened in a phased approach based on domestic case numbers continuing to decline.
The first phase of relaxing travel restrictions will be most favourable for Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and essential workers who have been fully vaccinated.
Travellers are considered fully vaccinated if they have received full doses of one of Canada’s four approved COVID-19 vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca (two doses each), and Johnson & Johnson (one dose) – at least 14 days prior to their arrival in Canada.
Instead of undergoing a three-day hotel quarantine at a cost of $1,000+, followed by completing a 14-day quarantine at home, vaccinated air travellers will be able to present a negative PCR test prior to their flight to Canada, as well as complete a PCR test upon arriving in Canada and present a suitable quarantine plan while waiting for the result.
If the subsequent test also comes back negative, the fully vaccinated traveller will be released from quarantine.
I’d expect more specific details about the phased approach to relaxing travel restrictions to be made available in the near future – including the exact start date to the policy in early July, as well as what kind of proof of vaccination (or “vaccine passport”) will be required under the new policy.
When Will Canada’s Borders Reopen?
Note that the first phase of the approach only applies to Canadian residents and essential workers, allowing fully vaccinated Canadians who leave the country to return with minimal disruption to their lives.
The reopening of Canada’s ports of entry to foreign visitors is a separate issue, on which I expect we’ll also hear updates in the coming days and weeks.
With vaccination rates approaching the widely-heralded 70% mark, Canada ought to be preparing plans to restart tourism among vaccinated travellers from other countries and provide our own Canadian travel industry with a much-needed boost.
Similarly, the reopening of the US–Canada land border is also a keenly watched topic, as the current closure of the border is scheduled to last until June 21, 2021.
Many signs indicate that we the land border is likely to reopen after that date given the strong vaccination efforts in both countries. If that happens, the specific travel restrictions at the land border will also need to be clarified.
Currently, Canadians who return to Canada via the land border do not need to complete a three-day hotel quarantine, and may return directly to their place of residence to complete a 14-day quarantine. The border remains closed to US citizens.
I’d expect a similar reduction in the quarantine period for fully vaccinated travellers at the land border as what’s being mooted for air arrivals – although the question remains as to whether the land border will reopen only to Canadian and US citizens (in which case US citizens are being given special treatment among foreign citizens), or to all vaccinated individuals (in which case third-country nationals could enter Canada by land, if not by air).
A First Step Towards International Travel
With most Canadians on track to receive their full doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the late summer of 2021, we can now begin earnestly looking forward to international adventures as soon as July and August.
Since March 2020, the requirement to quarantine at home for 14 days upon returning to Canada has been a major deterrent for Canadians who are comfortable travelling internationally.
The introduction of the three-day hotel quarantine in early 2021 only added to the cost burdens, rightfully dissuading Canadians from leaving the country at a time when COVID-19 cases were rising sharply.
Now that the vaccines have begun to work their magic, I’m glad to see the first signs of these policies coming to a sensible end. After receiving our two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, those of us who are inclined to travel internationally will be able to do so knowing that we’ll only need to quarantine at home for a day or two upon our return.
Of course, that’s not to say that international travel will be “back to normal” in any way. Only a small proportion of the world has reopened to vaccinated travellers, and there’s still a great deal of border controls, testing requirements, and the risk of incurring additional unforeseen costs in time or money along your journey.
(Indeed, I’m currently learning that lesson the hard way on my trip to China, which is a story I’ll share with you in due course.)
But with the relaxed travel restrictions scheduled to kick in in early July (providing that cases continue on their current downtrend), I do believe that international travel will once again begin playing a bigger part in our lives in the fall and winter.
The late 2021 trips we had booked speculatively may well come to fruition, and with many generous change and cancellation polices remaining in place, now’s perhaps the time to begin planning some extra revenge travel or 2021 and 2022.
It’s amazing to see the first signs of Canada loosening its 14-day quarantine policy for vaccinated travellers returning to the country. I’d expect more details about the policy to be confirmed shortly, and will update this article when we learn more.
While the news is very encouraging, part of me is also reminded of the time when we first learned about Alberta’s rapid testing pilot in late 2020, and how we all held such high hopes that it would herald a return of international travel.
This time, with vaccines proving effective in the fight of the virus, I’m much more confident that some international travel will be back on the table in 2021 – and then it’s simply a matter of waiting for the world to slowly open up.
Finally, while Canada’s relaxing of restrictions for its own residents is a welcome first step, our strong progress on vaccinations also means that we must look at opening our borders to vaccinated international travellers as soon as possible and help our very own Canadian travel industry on its long road to recovery.