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As COVID-19 restrictions gradually ease, many Canadians are planning to travel this summer. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning a trip.
What are the latest changes?
Effective June 20, passengers no longer need to be fully vaccinated — with two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine or one of Johnson & Johnson’s — to board a plane or train in Canada.
The federal government is also lifting vaccination requirements for federally regulated workers, allowing airline and airport employees on unpaid leave because of their vaccination status to return to work.
Ottawa will bring back the mandates if the COVID-19 situation changes for the worse, according to Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist, has said it’s the “right time” to end the travel mandates, because they no longer serve their intended purpose of preventing COVID-19 transmission on transportation.
It’s reasonable for Ottawa to drop the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for travel, says infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, noting two doses doesn’t prevent Omicron transmission.
What stays the same?
Vaccinated Canadians returning from abroad must still meet entry requirements, including using the ArriveCAN mobile app or desktop version to submit their travel- and COVID-19-related information within 72 hours before their arrival in Canada.
The unvaccinated must still meet additional testing and quarantine requirements or face a fine up to $5,000 or criminal prosecution.
Masks remain mandatory for those boarding planes or trains.
Will this fix the airport delays?
Some industry groups and politicians have blamed the recent chaos at some Canadian airports on COVID-related border restrictions, while government officials say the delayed or cancelled flights and hours-long security lineups are because of staffing shortages.
LeBlanc has said lifting the vaccine mandates won’t immediately affect airport delays.
However, he and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra have said the government has taken steps to address the problems, including hiring more security screening personnel and adding more customs kiosks.
What about monkeypox?
Health officials are encouraging Canadians to take extra precautions, because of the potential threat of monkeypox, if travelling to 31 countries including the U.S., U.K., Australia, Mexico, Spain and Germany. The “level two” notice, issued on June 7 by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), is one step below a recommendation to avoid non-essential travel.
It’s rare to see outbreaks of the virus outside of West and Central Africa, but cases have cropped up around the world in recent weeks. At least 123 have been confirmed in Canada.
PHAC says anyone with symptoms or a diagnosis of monkeypox should delay their travel and isolate. The virus is known for causing telltale skin lesions, but often initially shows up as a flu-like illness.
The agency says travellers may be subject to isolation or other measures to limit the spread of the virus upon arrival at their destination. It also cautions that those who go abroad could have limited access to appropriate care if they become ill and could face delays returning home.
How do I protect myself?
Many precautions against COVID-19 are also effective against monkeypox, says respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta, though the latter spreads more via direct contact than through the air.
“You really want to focus on preventing contact, washing hands — even wearing gloves,” he told CBC News.
Still, wearing a mask is a good idea as some studies have suggested the virus is capable of spreading through the air, he said.
PHAC recommends that travellers consult a health-care professional or visit a travel health clinic at least six weeks before their trip. It also says travellers can lower their risk by being “particularly vigilant” at any large parties or gatherings.
Washing your hands and wearing a mask are good precautions for travellers trying to avoid monkeypox, says respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta.
When will my passport be renewed?
Long lineups have become common outside passport offices from B.C. to Montreal, because of what Service Canada called an “unprecedented surge” in applications as travel reopens after two years of pandemic restrictions.
Some people have had to reschedule trips because of the bottleneck.
Service Canada has said it’s brought on 600 new employees to help.
All passport service counters were reopened last month, and others have been added at more than 300 centres.
Based on projections from early June, 75 per cent of applicants should receive their passport within 40 working days, according to a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada. Ninety-six per cent of those who submit an application in person at a specialized site should receive theirs within 10 working days.
From left, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announce the changes in Ottawa. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)