Canada’s New Travel Restrictions Are … Very Restrictive!

Photographed by Poppy Thorpe.
UPDATE: Ottawa is continuing to clamp down on Canadian vacationers. After the Jan. 29 announcement that Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing, and WestJet would be suspending flights to the Caribbean and Mexico from Jan. 31 until April 30, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken measures a step further as fears about new and extra-contagious strains grow. Starting on Feb. 22, people arriving in Canada from outside the country will have to quarantine in a hotel (paying their own way) for at least three days, while they wait for the results of a mandatory COVID test. If the test is positive, travellers have to then isolate in a designated government facility, reports CTV.
This means that anyone coming into Canada by air must: Present proof of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of your scheduled departure time, take a COVID test on arrival in Canada, quarantine for three days at a government-authorized hotel until you receive the results of your test, and take a final COVID test at the end of your 14-day quarantine.
For those looking to cross into the country via land (a.k.a zipping across the border in your car), you also have to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel and take a second COVID test at the border before being eligible to enter the country. People crossing by land don't have to quarantine for three days at a hotel, but do have to quarantine for 14 days at home. “With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying," Trudeau said during the Jan. 29 announcement. So, pretty much, please just stay home.
Original story follows.
On Friday, Justin Trudeau implored Canadians to cancel all non-essential travel plans and, yeah, that includes any upcoming escapes filed under self-care and/or well-deserved mental health break. The PM’s latest plea comes after news that hundreds of thousands of us — including a whole bunch of double-talking politicos — have been opting for fun in the sun over a pandemic in the polar vortex.
And look, we get it. It’s freezing and dark before lunch, the vaccine is on hold, and after eleven freaking months of this crap, “pandemic fatigue” feels like the world’s biggest understatement. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are in full-blown crisis mode, and now is not the time for pulling a Kim Kardashian (no matter how badly you want to “pretend things are normal”).
With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about (why you definitely shouldn’t) travel at the moment, including the potentially stricter rules coming soon from Trudeau, and why — if you do decide to join the ranks of the rule flouters — you may not be able to get back home. 

I get that I’m not supposed to travel, but am I allowed to?

Technically, there is no rule in place that bans Canadians from adding new stamps to their passports, but there is a federal advisory against non-essential travel. It’s the same advisory that has been in effect since early days (March 2020), though lately the messaging is getting stronger. “Let’s be clear: this is not the time for a vacation abroad,” Trudeau told Canadians over the December holidays, just last week adding, “cancel your trip.” 
The PM has returned to mad dad mode for good reason: ICYMI, Canada is not doing so hot, pandemic-wise. A recent slew of enhanced provincial lockdown and curfew restrictions across the country are based on the fact that our numbers are high and our hospitals are full. Not just that, you’ve probably heard something about new and extra-contagious strains in other countries including the UK and Brazil. So basically, you weren’t supposed to travel internationally before, whereas now you’re really, really, realllllllllllllly not supposed to travel.

Then why do I keep seeing vacation selfies on my Instagram feed?

Because the people you follow are over-privileged, self-involved idiots? Kidding! (Sort of.) And honestly — let she among us who has not participated in any kind of COVID restriction infraction cast the first coconuts. There are a lot of reasons why booking a vacay may not have seemed like a totally terrible idea, the first being that many airlines and travel companies have been making crystal clear waters kind of hard to resist. Up until recently, WestJet has been promoting sunny getaways as an alternative to hunkering at home; Sunwing introduced its #SafeWithSunwing campaign last year. Air Canada hired a bunch of travel influencers to show us how safe and fun pandemic travel can be. Note: This did not go over very well on Twitter, but it goes to show that a lot of people are still not getting it. 

If the government really, really, reallllllly doesn’t want us to travel, why isn’t it banned outright? 

It’s confusing, right? And possibly soon to change. But, turns out the reason for the reticence has less to do with wishy-washy policy, and more to do with the Constitution. You know, that century and a half-old document that guarantees our ability to exit and enter our homeland freely along with a whole whack of other rights and liberties that make Canada a free and democratic society. It’s not that the Constitution can’t be overridden, it’s just that it’s a bit of a last resort thing and requires the signoff of the Supreme Court. Hence the recent tactics that fall somewhere between “we’re counting on Canadians to do the right thing,” and a full-on ban. 

What kind of tactics are we talking about?

In the first week of January the feds introduced a new restriction that requires all passengers returning to Canada to present a negative COVID test, taken within 72 hours of their departure time (and still quarantine at home for two weeks upon arrival). More than 50,000 Canadians cancelled winter travel plans following that disincentive, but if you’re still not convinced, know that stricter rules are almost certainly coming, including the possibility of mandatory quarantine hotels.

Yikes! What's a quarantine hotel? 

It’s a hotel where returning travellers would be forced to spend two weeks after leaving the country. Apparently not enough of us are taking the current quarantine-at-home rules seriously. And for anyone thinking, okay, but another two weeks of mints-on-my-pillow doesn’t sound so bad… Guests at the Casa del Covid will be required to pay their own way. And 24-hour surveillance may kill the vacay vibes pretty quickly.

Where have Canadians been travelling? (Asking for a friend)

The most popular international destinations since the weather got cold have been pretty predictable: Jamaica, Mexico, and Hawaii, where some travellers have been allowed to skip the Aloha state’s quarantine requirement by presenting a negative test on arrival. Note that a lot of these countries have safety policies in place. (Barbados, for example, has a negative test requirement, a health declaration, and a second negative test five days later.) Hotels and resorts may have additional restrictions, like staying in your room or designated area for a pre-specified time upon arrival. 

Okay, but if I’m willing to follow their rules and quarantine when I come back, what’s the problem?

There are a few issues with this line of thinking, which goes back to the question of whether booking a trip (while it is still legally possible to do so) qualifies as butthole behaviour. These are hard times, no question, and everyone is feeling the hurt. Still, we are not all feeling it equally, and if you are in a position to escape to turquoise pastures, then chances are things could be worse. Now maybe you’re thinking, but me staying home and being miserable doesn’t help the people who have it tough, but in the case of a viral pandemic, it quite literally does. When you stay home (from your vacation), it means that someone else who can’t stay home (from their frontline job) has a slightly less significant chance of contracting COVID. And when you times that by hundreds of thousands of would-be jetsetters, it makes a difference.
There is also a pretty compelling ethical argument against people from wealthy high-caseload countries like Canada travelling to poorer countries with lower numbers. “People travelling from a COVID hotspot like Canada to islands that have low case numbers, that is just dripping with settler/colonial privilege,” says Dr. Samantha Yammine (aka, @sciencesam) a Toronto-based neuroscientist and science communicator. “There is a lot of exceptionalism around the pandemic, particularly with white people, people of means, and people who are young and think they can’t get sick.”  

What if I get tested before I travel?

For starters, false negative tests are more common than most of us realize. And even if your test is accurate, it doesn’t protect you from the customs agent speaking moistly or the woman who does not understand proper cough etiquette at baggage dropoff. How can you be sure that you are not either passing COVID onto those people or getting it from them? The answer, according to Yammine, is that you can’t. “You see influencers talking about how safe they are being within their travel pod, which is totally missing the point.” It’s why the Kardashian 40th b-day was such a problem: “Maybe Kim and her friends felt safe, but what about the staff they were exposing?” 
If being personally responsible for a COVID outbreak in a foreign country isn’t enough to have you logging off Travelzoo, consider that you could also get COVID on vacation. Which would make presenting a negative test before takeoff kind of impossible. And that new restrictions (up to, and including a closed border) could come without notice. We all want that frozen marg right now, but is it really worth it?

Okay, finnnnneeeee. I’ll wait. But how long are we talking? 

The bad news is that there is no magic date to circle on a calendar. (In case it’s not obvious at this point, March Break is a definite no-go). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be excited for spring. All signs point to millions of vaccine doses coming into Canada by early April, we are still on track for nationwide vaccination by September. If you want to start planning a trip, look to late fall/early winter. The temperature will start dropping again and when wanderlust kicks in, you can go forth in good conscience.

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