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Feds crack down on non-essential travel with repeated testing, mandatory quarantining

Friday, February 12, 2021 @ 5:34 PM | By Terry Davidson

Ottawa is on the verge of establishing strict new COVID-19 rules for incoming travellers, requiring that they be tested three separate times and that arriving air travellers go the extra mile by arranging — and paying for — a three-day quarantine at a designated hotel.

The new measures, being put in place to both prevent the spread of the virus and to discourage Canadians from non-essential travel during the health crisis, were discussed at length on Feb. 12 during two press conferences and a technical briefing.

Starting Feb. 15, all travellers arriving at a Canadian land border will have to provide a negative COVID test taken in the U.S. within the prior 72 hours. Starting Feb. 22, they will also have to take another test upon arriving, provide a quarantine plan and then take another test toward the end of their mandatory 14-day self-isolation period.

Back on Jan. 7, it was made so air travellers coming into Canada had to first test negative before boarding their return flight. But starting Feb. 22, those landing at one of the four Canadian international airports currently accepting flights will also have to take another test upon arrival.

But then they will be whisked away to a government-authorized hotel, where they will stay to await the results. If those results are negative, they will be released to start their 14-day self-isolation. But, like the land travellers, they will have to take another test towards the end of that period.

Incoming land and air travellers who display symptoms or have an unsuitable self-isolation plan will be taken to a designated quarantine facility, according to government documents.

During a midday press conference, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said travellers will have to arrange their three-night hotel stay prior to their departure to Canada — and have to pay for their stay.

It has been reported that the total cost of the stay could reach as high as $2,000.

“There will be a number of hotels to chose from, near each of the four international airports accepting flights in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal,” said Hajdu. “Costs of these hotel stays may vary slightly at each location. It is up to the traveller to chose where they wish to say and book in advance of departure. The price will include costs associated with the room, food, cleaning, infection and prevention control measures and security, as well as transportation.”

Hajdu said that if negative test results come back early, they may go on to their final destination.

Hajdu talked of encouragement recently being stoked by dropping COVID-19 numbers. But she also called for extra care to be taken so as not to spoil the strides gained.  

“As we can see, public health measures are working here in Canada, with [fewer] Canadians contracting COVID-19 across the country over the last month, [and] vaccinations beginning to show evidence with reducing deaths in long-term care. But Canada is still in a delicate stage in our fight with COVID-19, and that is why we must do everything in this critical moment to protect our progress. Any increased spread can jeopardize our collective sacrifices and set us back.”

 Minister of Pubic Safety Bill Blair

Minister of Pubic Safety Bill Blair

At that same news conference, Minister of Pubic Safety Bill Blair was asked why the mandatory hotel stays apply to air travellers but not to those arriving at land borders.

Blair said airports have the infrastructure — hotels and food services, specifically — to accommodate something such as mandatory quarantining. Many land borders, he said, do not.

“The physical infrastructure around our land points of entry is very different. … There are 117 land points of entry, some of them located in … remote locations. … The measures we are … in the process of implementing around the four international airports simply aren’t possible, given the existing infrastructure that’s available in many of those remote [land] points of entry. Some of them are hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest motel, for example — or even from populated areas.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked about the necessity of the new border rules.

“These border measures will help stop the spread of COVID-19 and new variants,” said Trudeau, who went on to talk about more vaccines coming to Canada.

Trudeau said Ottawa has received an “updated delivery schedule from Pfizer that brings us to the end of March.”

“We can confirm we will be receiving the four million doses we’ve been committed to … by the end of that month. … For the months following, from Pfizer, we’ll be getting the next doses sooner. We’ve brought forward millions of doses into [the year’s second quarter] so that we will receive 10.8 million doses of Pfizer between April and June, and all of our remaining doses of Pfizer in [the third quarter] before the end of September. That is, we will have received 40 million doses from Pfizer by the end of September. That’s part of the reason we can say with such confidence that everyone who wants a vaccine in Canada will get one by the end of September.”

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