ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — After maintaining some of the toughest pandemic-related travel restrictions in the country, Newfoundland and Labrador is aiming to once again welcome travellers from the rest of Canada as early as July 1.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, announced the goal of lifting the province's travel ban on Canada Day as she unveiled a post-pandemic reopening plan Wednesday.
She was joined at a media briefing by Premier Andrew Furey, who said the province's swift vaccination rollout and residents' adherence to public health rules allowed the travel ban to be lifted. "What a great moment this is, after everything we've all been through," Furey said.
Newfoundland and Labrador's so-called travel ban requires potential visitors to apply to the government for permission to enter the province. Only certain types of travellers, such as essential workers, are allowed in, and most are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
The ban was unsuccessfully challenged in court last year by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in a suit led by Kim Taylor, a Nova Scotia resident who was denied entry to Newfoundland and Labrador to attend her mother's funeral in May 2020.
That is all set to change July 1 — if the province's COVID-19 case counts and hospitalization rates stay low, and 75 per cent of all residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine. According to the plan, fully vaccinated Canadian travellers will not have to apply for permission to visit, nor will they have to self-isolate or present a negative COVID-19 test when they arrive.
Partially vaccinated Canadians will have to present a negative result from a COVID-19 test administered within three days of their departure date, or they can isolate until they get a negative test result.
On Aug. 15, those rules will loosen again, and partially vaccinated Canadians will be able to visit without isolating or providing test results. Unvaccinated Canadians will have to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
"We are also so excited to be able to welcome tourists back to Newfoundland and Labrador," Furey said. "Big news today for our tourism operators, businesses and everyone involved in our local economies who have suffered so much."
Fitzgerald said visitors will still have to fill out a declaration form and her team is working out a process for them to upload their proof of vaccination to the travel form.
"Hopefully at the border, the confirmation won't need to happen there, it will have already happened," she said. Newfoundland and Labrador’s travel restrictions hit rotational workers especially hard, often requiring them to spend most of their time home in self-isolation, away from their families.
Throughout the pandemic, workers came together on social media, using Facebook groups to share information about the latest testing and isolation requirements. Craig Connors is an administrator for one of those groups and while he welcomed Wednesday’s reopening plan, he said he feels it prioritizes tourists over rotational workers.
Many workers — himself included — won’t have two doses of COVID-19 vaccine by July 1. That means fully vaccinated Canadians will be able to visit without restrictions while he and his colleagues will still have to get tested before they come home or self-isolate when they arrive until they can get a test.
Connors also pointed out that fully vaccinated workers from outbreak sites will still have to isolate and get tested. “Give us the vaccine, let us go back to normal, it’s as simple as that,” he said in an interview Wednesday from Nanticoke, Ont., where he works on a ship.
A research group at Memorial University in St. John's studying the mobile workforce has estimated there are well over 10,000 rotational workers in the province.
Health Minister John Haggie said during Wednesday's briefing that the province has done everything it could to prioritize rotational workers in the vaccine rollout. They were eligible for a first dose in late April, a few weeks ahead of the general population.
Connors said the stigma faced by rotational workers has been difficult, noting that workers felt scrutinized by people in their communities when they returned home from worksites.
Furey acknowledged those hardships on Wednesday.
"We can't imagine the sacrifice that they've put in and we … are incredibly empathetic to them and their families and what they've gone through," he said. "But the finish line is here, or certainly within our reach, and we can't thank them enough for their sacrifice, and their commitment to the province."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2021.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press