Earlier this year, Canada had signalled that it would enact and enforce a vaccine mandate for anyone who wished to travel on commercial air and train services within the country.
Today, this policy was officially confirmed, along with a start date of October 30, 2021. As of this date, Canadian travellers will need to show proof of vaccination in order to embark on their trips.
Proof of Vaccination Required to Travel as of October 30
Canada has announced a series of sweeping measures to ensure that the transportation sector is fully protected against the spread of COVID-19.
As of October 30, travellers will need to be fully vaccinated to begin their journey on:
- Commercial flights departing from Canadian airports
- VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer train services
- Non-essential passenger vessels on voyages of 24 hours or more (including cruise ships)
Proof of vaccination will need to be shown prior to boarding. Until development of a pan-Canadian “vaccine passport” is complete, province-issued proof of vaccination ought to suffice.
There will be a transition period until November 30, 2021, during which it’s possible to show a negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours as an alternative to proof of vaccination. This is intended to accommodate travellers who are currently in the process of getting vaccinated.
After November 30, all travellers will need to be fully vaccinated, with very limited exceptions in cases of emergency travel, vaccine exemptions for medical reasons, and flights to/from Canada’s remote communities for essential health purposes.
With this new measure in place, the government advises that any Canadians who wish to travel by air or train over the holiday season should take measures to get vaccinated as soon as possible, if they haven’t already.
The same requirements apply to all employees in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transport sectors. Employers will be required to establish vaccination policies as of October 30 in accordance with government guidelines.
How Effective Is This Policy?
Canada’s approach to a vaccine mandate for air travel leads the way among our global peers.
Having recorded strong performance in our vaccination rate thus far, this measure ensures that we may transition out of the pandemic era as smoothly as possible. The implementation is also quite timely, falling well in advance of what promises to be a much busier holiday travel season than last year.
The announcement of an October 30 start date gives anyone who has yet to be vaccinated the necessary 14- or 21-day window to get their shot, along with a month-long negative-test transition period to accommodate any stragglers.
Together with the continued mask mandate in airports and onboard aircraft, this policy makes it possible for us to safely keep our borders open and quarantine-free fully vaccinated travellers, playing our part in a sensible and science-based approach to the resumption of global travel.
Some Canadians prefer not to be vaccinated for one reason or another. Travellers for whom this is the case must recognize that their freedom of movement will be severely restricted for the foreseeable future, whether in terms of international or domestic travel.
With the majority of countries around the world requiring proof of vaccination to enter and Canada now mandating vaccination for air travellers, it’s going to be a choice between getting the vaccine or sticking to road trips.
What’s Next for Canada’s Travel Policies?
Despite our laboured and lackadaisical approach to travel restrictions earlier in 2021 (in particular with hotel quarantine), credit must also be given where it’s due.
Canada has certainly stepped things up in the latter half of the year, having relaxed quarantine to fully vaccinated returning travellers, US residents, and other foreign visitors in quick succession, followed by today’s announcement of the upcoming vaccine mandate.
I wouldn’t expect many further changes to our travel policies for the rest of 2021. But as we progress into 2022 and vaccination rates around the world continue to rise, I’d like to see a few modifications to better facilitate the ever-accelerating return of travel.
For one, I think there will be the opportunity to broaden the set of accepted vaccines for fully vaccinated travellers.
While the current set of Health Canada-approved vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson – certainly keeps things simple, it continues to exclude a great deal of the fully vaccinated and negative-tested travellers from around the world who have not had access to these vaccines.
Opening up the list to World Health Organization (WHO)-approved vaccines will allow more travellers to enter Canada safely and responsibly, and in particular will grant the opportunity for many families and loved ones to reconnect after a long time apart.
This could involve setting up a more granular list of countries that are allowed to enter based on each country’s local transmission rates, if the efficacy of non-Health Canada-approved vaccines is a concern.
Over time, I’d also like to see the requirement for a negative PCR test within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Canada being relaxed – perhaps in favour of a cheaper antigen test like our neighbours to the south – but the earliest I’d see this happening is towards the end of 2022.
As of October 30, 2021, Canadian travellers will need to be fully vaccinated in order to travel by air, rail, or cruise. Canada is one of the first countries in the world to enact such a policy, leaving a fast-closing window for any travellers who have yet to be vaccinated to do so.
Canada has certainly turned things around in terms of our clumsy travel restrictions in the second half of 2021. I’m glad that we can look forward to embarking on domestic and international trips during the rest of 2021 and beyond, safe in the knowledge that our fellow travellers have all taken the necessary steps to keep everyone safe.