Feds to suspend COVID vaccine mandates for domestic, outbound travellers

The federal government is reportedly dropping all vaccine requirements for planes and trains. The announcement is expected to come Tuesday. Carl Hanstke with the latest.

By Michael Ranger and Patricia D'Cunha

Unvaccinated Canadians will soon have more travel options as the federal government looks to take another step toward reducing airport congestion.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Tuesday that Canada would be suspending the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for domestic travel on planes and trains, as well as outbound international travellers. The mask mandate for travellers will remain in place.

“Masks are an effective way of reducing transmission, especially in areas with restricted space such as onboard planes, trains or cruise ships,” Alghabra said.

The changes come amid long lineups due to staffing shortages at airports in Canada, with many travellers expressing their frustrations with the delays in recent months as travel rebounds following a pandemic hiatus.

However, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the decision to drop the mandate was not based on the situation at airports but rather, “based on science.”

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said they are making this change now because the context of the pandemic has changed since its arrival in 2020.

“We now benefit from better levels of immunity from both vaccination and infection, the wider availability of anti-viral drugs and/or decreasing hospitalization rates,” he said.

The suspension of the vaccine mandates will take effect on June 20. However, mandatory vaccination will still apply to cruise ships and foreign nationals entering Canada.

The federal government said quarantine and testing requirements would remain in effect for unvaccinated Canadians returning to Canada. Travellers will also be required to fill out the health questionnaire via the ArriveCan app upon arrival.

LeBlanc cautioned that the government might “bring back” the mandates if the situation with the virus changes.

The requirement for passengers leaving Canadian airports and those wanting to travel domestically on a train or plane to show proof of vaccination has been in effect since Oct. 30, 2021. There are approximately five million unvaccinated Canadians.

The Canadian government is also lifting COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federally regulated workers, including those in public service, the RCMP, as well as transport workers, including truckers. Crown corporations and other agencies will also be asked to drop their mandates.

Read more:

Feds hope lifting mandates will ease airport delays

The lifting of vaccination requirements for federally regulated workers will allow airline and airport employees on unpaid leave to return to the job.

“Removing vaccination requirements for domestic and outbound travel is a step in the right direction. While vaccination rates have been high throughout the Toronto Pearson worker community during the pandemic, there are hundreds of workers across the Pearson ecosystem who are sitting on the sidelines due to this policy,” the Greater Toronto Airports Authority said in a statement.

Conservatives have been calling for an end to COVID restrictions and criticizing the Trudeau government for not anticipating the spike in travellers. Alghabra has previously said the government would make decisions on COVID measures in consultation with health officials.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has hired over 850 new screening agents in recent weeks to help deal with delays and get passengers to their gates faster.

The airport’s council and other industry groups have called for an end to vaccine mandates for passengers and aviation employees, saying that hundreds more workers could be on the job supporting travellers.

The suspension of the vaccine mandate comes days after the federal government announced it would pause random tests for arriving international passengers and that mandatory rapid tests for unvaccinated arrivals will happen off-site starting July 1.

On Sunday, the U.S. lifted its requirement for arriving international air travellers to take a COVID-19 test within a day before boarding their flights.

Canada dropped its pre-entry testing requirement for international air travellers on April 1.

With files from Cormac Mac Sweeney and The Canadian Press

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