What Canada’s Looser Travel Restrictions Mean For Your Summer Vacay Plans

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
It felt like we’d never get here, but slowly but surely, life is inching back towards some semblance of pre-COVID life. The latest indicator that we’re returning to the before times? The ability to hop on a plane with relative ease. ICYMI, on June 21, the Canadian government announced that it will be lifting some mandatory travel restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians on July 5. (How do you say “get me on a plane with a negroni STAT!” in Italian?). Before you book your dream vacation, there’s some essential things to consider — like what exactly are the new restrictions? What are the experts saying? And also, should we even be travelling at all? 
Here, everything you need to know about Canada’s updated travel restrictions and what they mean for you and your Aeroplan points. 

What exactly are Canada’s new travel restrictions?

The Public Health Agency of Canada is still advising Canadians to postpone non-essential travel for now. But for those who do decide to leave on a jet plane (or a plain old regular commercial airliner), you’ll find the situation a little easier to navigate.
Starting July 5, any fully vaccinated (so, people who’ve have received two doses of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson and waited the appropriate two weeks after) people will be permitted to travel into the country without quarantining, and won’t be required to stay at a government-mandated hotel. (Since February 2021, anyone landing in Canada has had to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense to the tune of over $1,000. Travellers were required to stay for around three days until they received negative COVID test results, at which point they had to continue their quarantine at home.)
This new rule doesn’t mean that anyone can just pop into the country willy-nilly. Alongside being fully vaccinated, travellers must also: be asymptomatic, provide a paper or digital copy of their vaccination document (different than a vaccine passport, more on that below), fill out all COVID-related information through the new government travel app portal ArriveCAN, and must undergo pre-and on-arrival COVID testing. (Of course, the results must be negative.) Plus, travellers have to present a “suitable quarantine plan,” in case they get to the border and don’t meet all the requirements. Just what a suitable quarantine plan is, isn’t clearly outlined yet.

What about domestic travel? Can I visit my mom one province over?

Currently, there are no federal travel restrictions for people who travel by car or plane within Canada, but some provinces do have their own regulations for domestic travellers. In provinces like Manitoba — which has been in a state of emergency since March 20 — domestic and international travellers are required to self-isolate (or quarantine) for 14 days after their arrival into the province. In Nunavut, potential travellers require authorization from the province’s chief public health officer to enter via plane or land, and must isolate once there. 
In Nova Scotia, after prohibiting inter-provincial travellers outside the Atlantic bubble from entering the province for the majority of the pandemic, any Canadian is able to enter the province starting June 30. Travellers still need to complete a check-in form and self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. And as of June 16, restrictions on inter-province travel in Quebec and Ontario have been lifted.

Will I have to carry a vaccine passport?

TBD. While the use of vaccine passports — a form of digital or paper documentation that proves your vaccination status — has been heavily debated, it seems inevitable that they’re on their way. During the announcement of the new guidelines on Monday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that work to create some kind of “proof of vaccination” is currently underway.  In March, health ministers from the G7 countries — which includes Canada, the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., and Japan — briefly spoke about collaborating on a passport to ensure consistency across the countries.

What do the experts say about the decision to scrap mandatory quarantine?

For the most part, experts have been largely supportive of the recent announcement and plan, with the biggest concern coming from the fact that unvaccinated children have to quarantine at-home while their parents don’t. “It’s reasonable,” says Dr. Jeff Kwong, a health issues scientist and professor at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, of the government’s new guidelines. “It’s about balancing the risks [of infection].”
What are those risks? Chiefly, while vaccines aren’t 100% effective, they’re very close, Kwong says. (November 2020 data from Moderna found that the vaccine was at least 94.5% effective at preventing infection. Being vaccinated increases the likelihood that if you do contract COVID, it won’t be life threatening.)
When it comes to the newly surging Delta variant, recent analyses by Public Health England found that vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Pfizer offer protection of more than 90% against hospitalization from the Delta variant. (It’s important to note that this is after two doses, as additional studies have shown, one dose of the vaccine gives only limited protection against the variant, with one dose of AstraZeneca reported to have “little to no efficacy.")
Anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated still has to adhere to the prior  mandatory 14-day quarantine. The same goes for children 18 and under who haven’t been vaccinated.

Great, I’ll book my Euro vacay! 

Yes, you can travel, and with relative ease. But should you? That’s another question. We know, we know, you’re vaxxed, waxed, and ready to go! But let’s pause for a second. It’s a privilege to even be considering travel right now, and a privilege that isn’t felt equally by all. “People should be conscious that COVID has really deepened divides between the haves and have nots in our society, and that's not a quick recovery,” says Katrina Plamondon, a health equity researcher at the University of British Columbia. If people are able to hop right back into their “normal” lives and jet off, because they’ve been both financially and physically unaffected by the pandemic — during a year which saw many people lose their jobs and their loved ones — that’s incredibly lucky.
There’s also an ethical implication to travelling to other countries, which could expose residents who might not have been vaccinated, especially considering vaccinated people can carry and spread the virus. “Other parts of the world are still suffering under catastrophic weight,” Plamondon says. “And the reason they're still suffering is because of how inequitable vaccine distribution is globally.”
These inequities in vaccine distribution stem from many sources, one of which is wealthy countries like Canada, the USA, and the UK hoarding vaccines. In pre-purchase agreements, Canada reserved enough vaccines to vaccinate three times the population. As of June 13, the government has pledged 13 million surplus vaccines to help vaccination globally, to start. This announcement came after International Development Minister Karina Gould said that Canada would eventually share doses, but didn't have any excess yet. (Refinery29 Canada has reached out to The Public Health Agency of Canada and the office of Minister Gould.) “The government needs to understand that a pandemic is by nature a global health crisis, [and] it's not gone just because Canada and the United States have been privileged enough to have access to vaccines so fast,Plamondon says.

Which reminds us! Every vaccine is the best vaccine

With Canada currently expecting a temporary delay of Pfizer vaccine shipments, many people have been wondering whether or not they should hold off on getting their second dose, for fear of mixing vaccines. But as many health professionals and experts have pointed out, vaccine mixing is safe and effective. And also necessary; because delaying doses due to vaccine shopping can lead to a delay in vaccination momentum. Something we definitely don’t want, considering Canada is on a good track.
“If anything, with the mixed dosing itself, it’s felt that it’s probably going to be more effective than two of the same ones,” Kwong says. Especially for those who received AstraZeneca as their first shot, and an mRNA (Pfizer/Moderna) vaccine as their second, “you generate a stronger antibody response.”
So TL;DR: Get whatever vaccine you can, as soon as you can.

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