TORONTO — Fly-in communities will be exempt from a federal requirement that air passengers be vaccinated against COVID-19, Canada's transport minister said Friday, a day before the mandate comes into effect.
Residents who leave their remote communities to access essential services need not be vaccinated to board a plane, Omar Alghabra told a news conference outside Toronto International Pearson Airport.
"We are putting in place some exceptions with guardrails and with measures, as well, to protect the health and safety of everyone," he said. "But again, those are communities that have very little if no access to the outside world, other than travelling by plane."
Ottawa said earlier this month that it was eyeing exceptions for 182 communities that Transport Canada or the provinces and territories have deemed "remote" and largely inaccessible by car.
Alghabra said the government consulted with First Nations, provinces and territories to develop the exemption.
Alghabra also announced a months-long grace period for unvaccinated foreign nationals hoping to leave the country without getting their shots.
They'll have until Feb. 28 to board a plane or boat leaving Canada with only a negative COVID-19 test if they choose to remain unvaccinated.
After that, he said, they'll be subject to the same requirements as everyone else.
There's a similar grace period for other unvaccinated Canadians, when they can travel with just a negative molecular test result for COVID-19, but it lasts only until Nov. 29.
"We know that Canadians who have not been vaccinated are now thinking about getting vaccinated and hopefully they will go out and get vaccinated, so they will be required to get tested prior to departure," Alghabra said.
He noted that the testing mandate is still a step up from existing policies for domestic air travel, which require neither a vaccine nor a negative test.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced in August that all travellers by plane, boat or interprovincial train would need to be vaccinated, and the pledge became a pillar of his successful re-election campaign.
Alghabra said the mandate will help protect workers and travellers alike.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2021.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press