What to know about relaxed travel measures for fully vaccinated Canadians

·4 min read

Relaxed travel rules for fully vaccinated Canadians may make visiting the United States easier for some, but uncertainly around travelling with unvaccinated children is already causing frustration for others, travel experts say.

The federal government still advises against non-essential travel — either by land or by air — to U.S. and international destinations, and the land border closure was recently extended to July 21. By and large, the public has complied.

However, tales abound of questionable cross-border jaunts by some, including a few politicians, who continued to fly throughout the pandemic.

Quarantine requirements upon return have been a deterrent, but that hurdle lifts July 5 for travellers fully vaccinated with a Health Canada-authorized vaccine. A negative COVID-19 test is still required before entry regardless of vaccination status, and travellers must be fully vaccinated for at least two weeks before they re-enter Canada.

Stephen Fine, who runs a resource website for Canadian seniors who spend winters in southern U.S. states, said quarantine requirements held back many from booking trips.

"Now that that's gone, the disincentive for people to go down to the U.S. is negated quite a bit," said Fine, president of Snowboard Advisor.

The new rules only apply to fully vaccinated people. Those with partial protection or none at all still must quarantine when they return to Canada.

Sandra Pappas, a Toronto-based travel agent who specializes in booking family vacations in Florida, said that means things get trickier when unvaccinated children are involved, and she's already heard clients express confusion and frustration over the rules.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children arriving by air with fully vaccinated parents won't have to go to quarantine hotels — federal Health Minister Patty Hadju said Monday they can stay home for two weeks, but must also take a second COVID-19 test on their eighth day of isolation. The same rules apply for unvaccinated children crossing the land border.

"It's frustrating for us because we book a lot of Disney (vacations) and families go to Disney," Pappas said. "So it's not as good for families because, yeah, they can travel ... but with (unvaccinated) children, they still have to do the 14-day quarantine."

Health Canada authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 last month. Moderna's approval for the same age group is pending, but no COVID-19 vaccine is yet authorized for kids younger than 12.

Pappas said parents may have to rethink booking a trip if it means they'll have to take extra time off work to watch their quarantining children after their vacations.

"That could throw a wrench in their plans," she said. "I don't see people as receptive to travelling if they book a week at Disney and it ends up costing them three weeks instead of one."

Fully vaccinated travellers still need to submit a negative COVID-19 test before entering the country, be asymptomatic and have a "suitable quarantine plan ... in case it is determined at the border that they do not meet the necessary requirements," the government's website says.

Travellers must upload their pre-arrival test and vaccination status to the ArriveCAN app, and carry digital or paper proof of their vaccination status to show border agents.

Falsifying vaccination documents can result in a $750,000 fine, up to six months in jail, or both.

Pappas said that while air travel has generally been more lenient than crossing by land, it's still up to U.S. customs to determine who they let into their country. Families looking to travel for leisure should make sure they know the potential COVID-19 regulations of their destination.

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada's website lists reasons for essential travel as: work, study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care and safety and security.

While Canada isn't outright forbidding travel for non-essential purposes, the country strongly advises against it.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that he understands the "impatience people have to get travelling again. But keeping Canadians safe has been and will continue to be our No. 1 priority."

Trudeau said potential loosening of further restrictions could depend on COVID-19 case counts and the prevalence of variants of concern in Canada and elsewhere.

There is risk in contracting COVID-19 through travel, even for fully vaccinated individuals, though the effectiveness of the jabs mean a severe infection is less likely. Still, some experts have said it's possible a vaccinated person could still spread the virus.

Fine said people will have to weigh their own risk tolerance when booking a trip.

"You're probably going to see a significant increase in people travelling come July," he said. "But there are people who may choose to wait longer to see if we keep heading in the right direction."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2021.

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

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