Canada announces easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions

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We previously reported that, on July 5, 2021, the Government of Canada lifted the following requirements for fully vaccinated persons: (a) the mandatory hotel quarantine requirement, (b) the 14-day self-quarantine requirement, and (c) the second post-arrival COVID-19 test requirement (typically performed on the 8th day following entry). However, fully vaccinated persons were still subject to Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, the pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test requirement, and the first post-arrival molecular test requirement (performed at the time of arrival).

On July 19, 2021, the Government of Canada issued a news release, which confirmed that it would lift its COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents (residing in the United States) on August 9, 2021. It also announced its intention to lift its COVID-19 travel restrictions for all other fully vaccinated international travellers on September 7, 2021, provided that certain conditions are satisfied.

Background on Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions

Canada first implemented its COVID-19 travel restrictions March 2020, by means of two Orders in Council:

a) Restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals from the United States first took effect on March 21, 2020, pursuant to the Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Prohibition of Entry into Canada from the United States) (the Canada-US Order). It prohibits foreign nationals from travelling from the United States to Canada for an “optional or discretionary” (i.e., essential) purpose. The Canada-US Order has been continuously renewed since March 21, 2020.

b) Restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals from all countries other than the United States first took effect on March 22, 2020, pursuant to the Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Prohibition of Entry into Canada from any country other than the United States) (the International Order). It prohibits foreign nationals from travelling to Canada from any country other than the United States, unless they fall within a finite list of specific situations and are entering for a purposes that is not “optional or discretionary.” The International Order has been continuously renewed since March 22, 2020.

The proposed easing of Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions

As mentioned above, the Government of Canada has announced its plans to lift its COVID-19 travel restrictions for all fully vaccinated persons (subject to certain entry requirements) on September 7, 2021. However, the announcement indicates that these changes remain tentative at this stage, and will depend on whether Canada’s “domestic epidemiologic situation” remains favourable.

As an initial step, beginning at 12:01 a.m. EDT on August 9, 2021, the Government of Canada will allow fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents currently residing in the United States (U.S. Travelers) to enter Canada even for optional or discretionary purposes, such as tourism, recreation or entertainment. It is not entirely clear whether an otherwise eligible U.S. Traveller will be permitted to enter Canada when travelling from a country other than the United States but this seems unlikely.

The Government of Canada has also published a comprehensive backgrounder regarding the easing of restrictions for U.S. Travelers on August 9, 2021. Further details are provided below.

The meaning of “fully vaccinated”

In order to be deemed “fully vaccinated,” a travellers must have received a full series of vaccine, or combination of vaccines, which are accepted by the Government of Canada. In addition, at least 14 days must have elapsed since the final dose was received.

Who can enter Canada on August 9, 2021

In order for fully vaccinated U.S. Travelers to benefit from the easing of Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions on August 9, 2021, they will need to comply with the following requirements:

a) They must submit their COVID-19-related information electronically through ArriveCAN, including evidence of vaccination, prior to their arrival in Canada (subject to limited exceptions);

b) They must comply with the pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test requirement (discussed below);

c) They must be asymptomatic upon arrival; and

d) They must possess a paper or digital copy of their vaccination documentation in English or French (or a certified translation, in addition to the original, if the documentation was issued in any other language).

Starting on August 9, 2021, air carriers will be responsible for verifying that travellers to Canada have submitted the necessary information, by means of ArriveCAN, prior to boarding a flight. U.S. Travelers who are entering for an optional or discretionary purpose, and who have not complied with this requirement, will be denied boarding.

Unvaccinated children under the age of 12 years or unvaccinated dependent children (due to a mental or physical condition) may also accompany a U.S. Traveler to Canada, if the following requirements are satisfied:

a) They are U.S. citizens or permanent residents currently residing in the United States;

b) The person that accompanies them is a parent, step-parent, guardian, or tutor who either: (1) has the right to enter Canada (e.g., a Canadian citizen or permanent resident), (2) is a fully vaccinated U.S. Traveler, or (3) is otherwise permitted to enter Canada under the Canada-US Order; and

c) They comply with all other required criteria, including the submission of necessary information by means of ArriveCAN, and all COVID-19 testing requirements.

Changes in COVID-19 molecular testing requirements on August 9, 2021

At the present time, the Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Quarantine, Isolation and Other Obligations) (the QIOO Order) requires all international travellers, (at least five years of age or older) who are entering Canada to adhere to the following COVID-19 testing requirements (unless otherwise exempt):

a) Prior to boarding their flight to Canada (if travelling by air) or prior to their arrival in Canada (if travelling by land), they must provide evidence of a COVID-19 molecular test, indicating that they received either:

1) A negative result for a COVID-19 molecular test that was performed on a specimen collected no more than 72 hours before entering Canada (if travelling by land, this test must have been performed in the United States); or

2) A positive result for a COVID-19 molecular test that was performed on a specimen collected at least 14 days and no more than 90 days before entering Canada (collectively, the Pre-Departure/Pre-Arrival Test Requirement).

b) They must undergo a COVID-19 molecular test, or comply with a conforming alternative testing protocol, on the day of entry and again on the 8th day after entry (collectively, the In-Canada Test Requirement). Of course, fully vaccinated persons have already been exempt from the second 8th day COVID-19 molecular test requirement since July 5, 2021.

Beginning on August 9, 2021, the following changes will take effect:

a) Canadian citizens and permanent residents travelling to the United State for less than 72 hours will now be permitted to complete their Pre-Departure/Pre-Arrival Test in Canada (i.e. prior to their brief trip to the U.S.).

b) Travelers who have recently recovered from COVID-19 may now satisfy the Pre-Departure/Pre-Arrival Test Requirement by presenting a positive COVID-19 molecular test result on a specimen taken 14 to 180 days prior to arrival in Canada. In other words, the Government of Canada has doubled the validity period for positive COVID-19 molecular tests.

c) Fully vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take a post-arrival COVID-19 molecular test at the time of entry, unless they are randomly selected. However, unvaccinated travelers will still be required to comply with all mandatory testing requirements imposed by the QIOO Order.

Changes in quarantine requirements as of August 9, 2021

At the present time, the QIOO Order requires all international travellers, (at least five years of age or older) who are entering Canada, to adhere to the following COVID-19 quarantine-related requirements (unless otherwise exempt):

a) If entering Canada by land, they must self-quarantine at a suitable location for a period of 14 days (the Self-Quarantine Requirement).

b) If entering Canada by air, they must:

1) Quarantine at a prepaid government-authorized hotel (at their own expense), and remain in quarantine until they receive the results of the COVID-19 molecular test that was performed when they entered Canada (the Mandatory Hotel Quarantine Requirement); and

2) Following a negative result, they must quarantine at a suitable location for the remainder of the 14-day period imposed under the Self-Quarantine Requirement.

Of course, fully vaccinated travelers have already been exempt from the mandatory hotel quarantine requirement and the 14-day self-quarantine requirement since July 5, 2021.

Beginning on August 9, 2021, the following changes will take effect:

a) The Mandatory Hotel Quarantine Requirement will be eliminated for all travelers (fully vaccinated or not).

b) Unvaccinated children under 12 years of age and dependent children (due to a mental or physical condition) will no longer be required to comply with the Self-Quarantine Requirement, but they must follow strict public health measures. This relaxation of the self-quarantine requirement applies even to travellers from the United States who are entering for an optional or discretionary purpose. They may move around with their parents but must avoid group settings (e.g., camps or daycares) during the first 14 days following their arrival. They also remain subject to both post-arrival COVID-19 molecular tests required by the In-Canada Test Requirement.

Additional easing of restrictions based on vaccination status

Individuals who are unable to receive a full series of vaccine, or combination of vaccines, due to a health condition for which vaccination is contraindicated according to the vaccine's label, may also qualify for eased quarantine and testing requirements currently available to fully vaccinated travellers, although they will be required to comply with a modified quarantine regimen. The Government of Canada has promised additional details at a later date.

Individuals traveling to Canada by marine mode will now also be eligible for the eased quarantine and testing requirements, if they are fully vaccinated travelers. As in the case of individuals travelling by land or by air, they must also meet all other criteria, including the Pre-Arrival Test Requirement and the requirement to submit any necessary information by means of ArriveCAN before or when entering Canada. The option to submit the ArriveCAN questionnaire when entering Canada is intended to accommodate potential Wi-Fi issues while on the water.

Easing of flight restrictions

In March 2020, the Minister of Transport approved flight restrictions to funnel scheduled international commercial passenger flights to Canada’s four largest airports: (a) Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, (b) Toronto Pearson International Airport, (c) Calgary International Airport, and (d) Vancouver International Airport. Under the original restrictions, flights from the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, as well as from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, were exempt and continued to operate and land at other Canadian airports. However, on January 29, 2021, these flight restrictions were further expanded to include the following:

a) Scheduled commercial passenger flights from the United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America;

b) International business/private passenger flights from all countries; and

c) International charter passenger flights from all countries.

In its news release, the Government of Canada announced that, as of August 9, 2021, international flights carrying passengers will now be permitted to land at the following five Canadian airports (in addition to the four airports mentioned above):

a) Halifax Stanfield International Airport;

b) Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport;

c) Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport;

d) Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport; and

e) Edmonton International Airport.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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