By Tonda MacCharles, Ottawa Bureau | Wed., June 16, 2021
OTTAWA — The federal government has still not signed off on a final plan promised last week to relax border measures for travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but sources tell the Star it is expected within days.
Still under consideration is the mechanism by which travellers will prove vaccination status, including the option of allowing Canadians to upload a provincial vaccination document to the federal ArriveCan website, as long as they can produce the original either in paper or electronic form on arrival.
But the devil is in the details for major Canadian airlines, which will be expected to implement measures quickly — and with vaccination rates rising, Canadians are itching to travel.
Right now, the airlines say, there’s no game plan despite the fact Ottawa says “adjustments” could come in early July. The current Canada-U.S. border restrictions are due to expire or be renewed on June 21.
Canadian airline representatives have demanded a plan for months, most recently with their U.S. counterparts in late May, and added their voice to a call this week by Western premiers for Ottawa to produce timelines for reopening the travel sector, along with clear rules for when and how vaccinated Canadians will be able to shorten or skip hotel or at-home quarantine with negative COVID-19 tests on arrival.about:blank
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told reporters Wednesday that the details are due within days, adding Ottawa has been in contact with airports, airline companies and others in the aviation sector “about our plan.”
“Certainly, we need to give them time to prepare for reopening,,” Alghabra said.
However airline representatives on the COVID-19 recovery working group that the minister referenced say they do not have details and metrics about how restrictions will ease.
Mike McNaney, head of the National Airlines Council of Canada, told the Star in an interview that airlines do not have details or any specific timeline, beyond the broad brush strokes of what’s been publicly announced: a possible relaxation of measures for Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated.
“It’s now the federal government’s time to actually show some leadership and put out a plan,” said McNaney. “We have to move away from this piecemeal approach … But it appears that is the approach the government plans to take as far as what a restart looks at, a series of individual announcements that will come at various periods of time.”
The airlines support recommendations by an expert advisory panel on COVID-19 testing and screening. The panel submitted its report on May 2 to Health Canada — but the government didn’t release it until May 27.
The panel of scientific experts laid out guidance for how federal rules should address five different groups of travellers: those who are unvaccinated, vaccinated, partially vaccinated, previously infected and exempt.
But more than two weeks later, the federal government has not yet embraced the report or acted on its recommendations — key among them, to eliminate the three-day quarantine in an approved hotel for arriving fully vaccinated travellers, with more effective use of pre-departure and on-arrival tests and at-home quarantine pending negative results.
John McKenna, head of the Canadian Air Transport Association, said the working group has been talking to the government but “the information-sharing on the last call was pretty tense. We said, ‘Guys, we need to know … What are we doing? What’s happening now?’ And we’re not getting an answer.