This blog was published on January 29, 2021 and has been updated to reflect the most recent announcements from the Federal Government.
Early in the new year, the Government of Canada announced that it intended to take additional measures to minimize the exposure to new and potentially more harmful variants of COVID-19. These new measures aim to limit the number of people travelling for non-essential purposes. For example, effective January 7, 2021, all travellers entering Canada by air are required to present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight destined for Canada.
On January 29, 2021, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau announced that the Federal Government will implement additional ‘multi-layered’ measures for travellers entering Canada.
At this time there are few details regarding the exact measures, how they will work, and who will be exempt. We will provide updates as further details are provided.
Terminating Flights To And From Common Travel Destinations Such As Caribbean And Mexico
In conjunction with Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing, the Government of Canada agreed to suspend services to sun destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico. This took effect on January 31, 2021 and will last until at least April 30 2021. This suspension is intended to curb Canadians from travelling to sun destinations for vacations.
Decreasing Airports Designated To Accept International and United States Flights
On February 3, 2021, all inbound international flights to Canada started being redirected to one of four major airports including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
These new flight restrictions included scheduled commercial passenger flights arriving from the United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America, which were previously exempted under similar restrictions implemented in 2020. Private/business and charter flights from all countries are also now required to land at one of the four airports.
Arrival Covid-19 Testing And Mandated Isolation In Government Of Canada Approved Hotels For Air Travel
Mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Rapid Testing will be administered to all non-essential travellers entering Canada by air at the designated airports as soon as the Canadian government can carry out logistical protocols for implementing such a system.
While awaiting PCR Rapid Test results, isolation of at least three days will be required at a government-approved hotel at the expense of the traveller. The Government estimates the cost of this hotel isolation at $2,000 CAD. On February 7, 2021, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) posted the qualifications necessary for a hotel to be considered as one of the federally designated self-isolation destinations. Qualifying hotels must:
- be near one of the four airports currently accepting international flights — in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver
- provide contactless meal delivery to rooms
- provide free wireless internet access
- set up a process for brief outdoor breaks; and
- Report daily check-in and checkout numbers, as well as non-compliant guests, to the public health agency.
To be included as a “listed hotel”, the hotel must submit their interest in participating to the Government no later than Wednesday, February 10, 2021.
Travellers are permitted to go “home” to continue isolation under strengthened government watch measures if their PCR Test is negative. If the PCR Rapid Test is positive, travellers will have to continue to isolate at a Government facility for the remaining isolation period. Travellers are only expected to cover the costs of the first three days of hotel based isolation.
The Government noted that there will be limited exemptions to the PCR Rapid Test and three-day hotel isolation requirement. As most of the announcement has referenced “non-essential” travel and travellers, we expect that the government will continue to provide some exemptions for essential travel and essential services travellers.
There has still been no indication as to when the mandatory isolation at a Government approved hotel will take effect. The Government maintains that they are aiming to implement the program as soon as possible, however, their plans are subject putting proper logistics in place and to on-going legal challenges made against the mandated self isolation, such as those raised by the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms.
Pre-Travel Negative PCR Testing Required for Land Ports of Entry
On February 9, 2021, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that “[a]s of February 15, 2021, when you return to Canada through a land border, you’ll need to show a 72-hour PCR test, just like air travel.” Prime Minister Trudeau went on to clarify that the testing requirement will only apply to those returning from non-essential travel, using “snowbirds” as an example. He further clarified that Canadian citizens will not be denied entry to Canada, but those who present at the border without proof of a test could face fines of up to $3,000. In cases where a traveller cannot show proof of a test, there will be a stiff penalty, a requirement that they undergo rapid testing once in Canada and that they properly self-isolation upon entering Canada.
Immediate Impacts Are Uncertain
While a formal or written order has yet to be implemented regarding hotel isolation or the land travel testing requirement, Prime Minster Trudeau made clear that the tightening of measures would be implemented quickly and that all additional requirements would be announced as soon as possible in the coming weeks. Travellers and employers who need to move critical employees should be aware of these changes coming. Further reviews may be required to determine how the new measures will impact travel and whether exemptions are applicable. The immigration team at MLT Aikins has a wealth of experience guiding travellers and employers through pandemic-related rules.
Travel during COVID-19 can be difficult to navigate and inconsistent application of the rules is common. Individuals planning to travel to Canada during the pandemic should obtain a full review and opinion to ensure rules are correctly applied to their application for entry. MLT Aikins has significant experience advising clients on immigration law matters and would be pleased to discuss the implications of this program.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.