Federal advisory panel recommends end to hotel quarantine in Canada
OTTAWA -- A federal advisory panel that provides advice to the government on COVID-19 testing and screening is recommending an end to the mandatory hotel quarantine required of international travellers entering Canada.
The panel states that, instead, travellers must present a suitable quarantine plan and failing approval, they be required to adhere to stay at a designated government facility.
Of the many issues they list as problematic with the current model is the fact that some travellers are choosing to pay the fine of up to $3,000 without presenting a legitimate quarantine alternative, as well as the administrative burden associated with managing the hotel quarantine program. They also highlight the inconsistencies between the land- and air-border measures, prompting some travellers to land at U.S. airports and cross into Canada by car to avoid the hotel stay.
The hotel quarantine rules came into effect in February as a means to discourage international, non-essential jet setting. The announcement received criticism when the government noted that travellers would have to foot the bill for their up to 72-hour stay, while they wait for the results of their PCR test.
The panel also views this as problematic.
“Travellers face an added cost (up to $2,000 CAD per person), time commitment and a burden to book government-authorized accommodation,” the report reads.
It adds that the required 72-hour stay “is inconsistent with the incubation period of SARS-CoV-2.”
As it stands today, to enter into Canada, passengers must also show a negative PCR test within 72 hours before their departure flight to Canada. After their hotel stay, they are required to carry out the remainder of their quarantine at home and take an additional test eight days later.
Among other recommendations, the panel suggests the continued screening of COVID-19 and its variants upon arrival and that all positive results be communicated to local public health authorities. It also states that the government not impose country-specific testing or quarantine measures at this time, “except under unique circumstances.”
“The global nature of travel and human mobility means that country-specific travel restrictions are likely to be of limited value. This is partially because travellers are able to circumvent such restrictions. As well, by the time such restrictions are implemented, the relevant variant will likely have already spread to other countries,” the report reads.
It also makes note of the considerations involved with some sort of vaccine certificate or passport, stating a system to validate proof of vaccination should be made available as soon as possible.
The federal health and transport ministers have said they are working in collaboration with their international counterparts on a “common set of principles” with regards to vaccine documentation and will unveil a plan shortly.
The panel lays out proposed guidelines for those unvaccinated and non-exempt, those with one shot of a two-dose vaccine and non-exempt, and those vaccinated and non-exempt.
For unvaccinated travellers it recommends the usual 72 hour pre-departure test, arrival test, approved quarantine plan, and a day seven follow-up test.
For partially vaccinated, it recommends that travellers provide “acceptable” proof of vaccination, as defined by the government, with the stipulation that those “outside the maximum recommended 2-dose interval period are considered unvaccinated.” All other steps remain the same as those applied to unvaccinated travellers except quarantine is required only until confirmation of a negative PCR test, with no follow-up at the seven day mark.
For the fully vaccinated, it recommends that travellers provide “acceptable” proof of vaccination, as defined by the government and the removal of the pre-departure test requirement. It proposes a PCR test upon arrival only for surveillance purposes. No quarantine is required unless the on-arrival test returns positive.
In the implementation of this, the panel says airlines and airports must use streams to separate the different groups.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said they welcomed the findings of the report on Thursday but noted data shows Canada’s strict border measures are working.
“There has been a 96 per cent reduction in air traffic and 90 per cent reduction in non-commercial land traffic into Canada compared to pre-pandemic volumes. Compliance rates are more than 99 per cent and average positivity rates since the start of arrival testing in February 2021 for those arriving by land (0.3 per cent) and air (1.7 per cent) remain very low,” the release reads.
“The Government of Canada will continue to monitor and review all available data and scientific evidence to inform future border and travel measures, and will be prudent in its approach, keeping the health and safety of Canadians top of mind. The Government of Canada will also consider the Panel's recommendations to determine how testing and quarantine strategies should evolve to address vaccination status.”
The National Airlines Council of Canada which represents Canada’s largest carriers weighed in, stating they “strongly support” the recommendations and urged the government to use the report as the foundation of a re-opening strategy for travel and tourism.