OTTAWA — A federal cabinet committee that has steered Canada’s COVID-19 response has unanimously recommended to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada lift its COVID-19 border restrictions, sources tell the Star.
Cabinet orders that revised those measures in late June — and are set to expire at midnight on Sept. 30 — include vaccination mandates for foreign travellers, quarantine and testing requirements for unvaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents, along with the use of ArriveCAN to register vaccination proof.
The Star first reported Friday that the federal government is considering allowing those measures to lapse.
However, the Star has now learned the final decision is now on the prime minister’s desk.
Trudeau has been on the road for the past two weeks and has not yet been fully briefed, sources said, and so it is not clear whether the recommendation would be accepted as is or tweaked.
If Canada drops its vaccination requirement, it would mean unvaccinated foreign nationals could enter the country; unvaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents could enter without having to quarantine and be tested after entry; and vaccinated Canadians would no longer be subject to mandatory random testing upon their return.
The ArriveCAN app could continue to be used to ease entry at borders. However, if Ottawa drops the vaccination requirement for travelers entering Canada, the rule that they must enter their vaccination information into the app within 72 hours before arrival would also be dropped.
The federal cabinet orders — known as orders-in-council — do not address the mask mandate on federally regulated airlines. It would not be affected by any decision to allow the measures in question to expire on Sept. 30.
The government has been adjusting measures all along, with the last big adjustment in the early summer.
But the airlines want all measures dropped, and a return to business as usual.
Jeff Morrison, head of the National Airlines Council of Canada, said the industry does not yet know which way the government will go.
“We’ve been calling for a long time now for the lifting of all the legacy pandemic restrictions on air travel,” Morrison said.
“Over 60 countries around the world have already fully lifted all the pandemic restrictions, including masking, so, you know, Canada is behind the times in that sense.”
Morrison called any justification for keeping masking orders in place “very dubious,” give the efficiency of ventilation systems on airplanes.
“Just in the past couple of months, we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of reports of harassment and abuse of airline crews who are in the position of having to enforce the mask mandate,” he added.
“People are getting aggressive, people are getting frustrated, especially when there is no more mandate anywhere else…And unfortunately, at a time when the federal government says that it has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment in its own workforce, it’s continuing to allow harassment of airline staff by having to enforce what is becoming an unenforceable measure.”
Trudeau said last week that Canada has “perhaps ended the acute phase” of the pandemic.
However, his government remains concerned that as the fall and winter approach, a new variant of COVID-19 could emerge to send new cases surging, and place additional strain on provincial health-care systems already burdened by staff shortages.
On Tuesday, cabinet ministers at the heart of the discussions would say only that no decision has been made.
“These measures are always being reviewed on the basis of the evidence, prudence and the epidemiology,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. “There are decisions to be made on those… soon and obviously communications will follow.”
Even if the measures are allowed to lapse, nothing would change for unvaccinated Canadians traveling to the United States.
Although US President Joe Biden told CBS on Sunday that “the pandemic is over,” sources say there has been no indication the US intends to drop its vaccination requirement for foreign nationals.
Duclos urged Canadians to get booster shots as soon as possible, saying pandemic the best way to ensure the heads in the right direction is for people to get the new bivalent vaccines.
He added that if anyone wonders whether the pandemic is over, “I invite them to go visit a hospital,” where health-care staff are still dealing with the fallout.
“Our health system needs help,” he told reporters. “What’s more important, our workers need help. The next few months will be difficult, we know. They are tired. The flu will come back. COVID is not over so we need to take care of ourselves and also take care of our health workers who cared for us.”
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said ArriveCAN was a “critical tool to process travellers” when the vaccination mandate was in place, but he could not comment on “a decision that has not been taken.”
He added that Canada will not “wait or depend on other countries’ decisions. We assess our own situations.”
Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters the business community doesn’t want to go backwards, but it also wants measures to evolve as the risk changes, including with new vaccines, to allow people to travel more easily.
Some Conservative MPs took credit for any move the government might take, saying they’ve put pressure on Trudeau — a claim government sources rejected.
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