Transport Minister Alghabra says airport delays did not affect vaccine mandate decision

·3 min read
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in Ottawa on Dec. 16, 2021. Alghabra says the decision to lift vaccine mandates on domestic travel, starting tomorrow, is not related to delays at airports. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in Ottawa on Dec. 16, 2021. Alghabra says the decision to lift vaccine mandates on domestic travel, starting tomorrow, is not related to delays at airports. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press - image credit)

With vaccine mandates for travel on planes and trains set to lift tomorrow, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says the decision to ease restrictions was not spurred by airport delays, which have plagued Toronto Pearson in particular.

"I can tell you that the decision we made was not related to the delays at airports," Alghabra said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that aired Sunday. The government has framed the shift as a "suspension," noting that the mandates could be reintroduced if there is a change in the trend of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delays at airports, Alghabra noted, are caused in part by labour shortages among airlines and a surge in Canadians travelling. He argued there has been improvements in the delays recently, thanks to procedural changes and the hiring of more screeners.

"I'm not saying that there aren't any issues right now, but we've seen significant improvements over the last few weeks," he said.

The vaccine mandate suspension affects domestic travel. Travellers entering Canada will still need to be fully vaccinated or qualify for an exemption. Testing requirements for unvaccinated travellers will also remain in effect. The suspension also removes vaccine mandates for federal workers and transportation employees.

Alghabra told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that the decision was the result of an extended process to determine whether the measures could be safely removed given evidence around vaccination and transmission.

"We wanted to be careful. We want it to be safe. And we want it to make sure that we have the right tools before proceeding," he said.

Mandates could return if situation changes

The government has argued the two-dose vaccination regime today has a diminished effect on transmission, given the rise of the Omicron variant. The government opted not to add a third dose to the definition of what they consider "fully vaccinated."

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said earlier this week that the government "would not hesitate" to potentially make that change if the epidemiological situation called for it. Just under half of all Canadians have received at least one booster dose.

Alghabra also said the government would make changes to the mandate system as needed.

WATCH | Intergovernmental affairs minister on travel restriction changes: 

"I hope we never have to bring it back. But for now, given the evidence and given the current public health situation that we have, we felt comfortable that it's time to suspend it."

The government has said transmission is one of several factors that were considered when making their decision.

Conservatives have called for the end of the travel vaccine mandates. MP Ron Liepert said earlier this week that the change "can't come soon enough." Conservatives also welcomed news that proof of vaccination in the House of Commons will end Monday, with mask mandates lifted June 23 (the last day of possible sittings before the summer break).

Alghabra also described how COVID-19 testing would work once a temporary suspension on mandatory random testing expires at the end of June. Randomly selected arriving travellers will receive a test kit to complete virtually at home under supervision of a health professional, while unvaccinated travellers will be tested at a facility near the airport.

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