A panel of medical experts convened by Health Minister Patty Hajdu to monitor and analyze the data and science-based evidence surrounding government measures to protect Canada against COVID has come to the same conclusions about hotel quarantines that the travel industry has been pointing out since before the requirement came into effect months ago.
But Hajdu and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair say they’re not cancelling the hotel quarantine requirement – at least not yet.
In NOV 2020, the Minister of Health established the COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel, which issued its fourth report late Thursday. This latest report provides recommendations for land and air arrivals from other countries, and crucially, for the first time specifies how vaccinated or recovered and immune travellers should be treated differently from other pax on their arrival into Canada.
The report is titled: “Priority strategies to optimize testing and quarantine at Canada’s borders”, and you can read it in full here.
In its introduction, the panel declares that border restrictions are necessary to protect COVID from entering Canada, and “ assumes that the current federal recommendations against non-essential travel will remain in force. The Panel emphasizes the need for Canadians, including vaccinated travellers, to follow public health requirements such as physical distancing and mask wearing.”
Recommending Exemptions for Vaccinated Travellers
The panel now provides different recommendations for vaccinated arrivals or arrivals who have recovered from COVID and are immune.
It now says fully vaccinated or recovered arrivals should be exempt from pre-departure testing.
Fully vaccinated arrivals (with proof) should be tested upon arrival then exempt from quarantine and the tests a week later.
And partially vaccinated arrivals (with proof) should be exempt from quarantine providing their test on arrival is negative.
In apparent support for some kind of universal ‘vaccine passport’, the panel also said, “A system to validate proof of vaccination for arriving travellers should be made available as soon as possible.”
Hotel Quarantine Rejected
But in its review of current government measures, the panel says Ottawa’s hotel quarantine program doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
“The Panel recommends that the requirement for all air travellers to quarantine in government-authorized accommodations be discontinued,” because it:
- “is not applied equally to land and air travellers;
- is expensive to administer;
- provides opportunities for travellers to bypass by paying a fine;
- is inconsistent with the incubation period of the virus.”
If these weaknesses in the hotel quarantine program reported by the Health Minister’s panel sound familiar, it’s because they are the very same points the travel industry, the media and others have been making for months.
Since before it came into effect, travel stakeholders, the media and others have been questioning Ottawa about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the COVID protection measure that also has little support among Canadians.
According to an Angus Reid poll released 15APR, only 30% of Canadians think hotel quarantines are effective at reducing the risk of COVID-19 to others.
At least one travel operator was quick to applaud the panel’s most recent findings and recommendations.
“Over the past 15 months, WestJet has been requesting science-based travel guidance and this report represents a responsible path forward,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO in a media release Thursday following publication of the panel’s report. “These findings are evidence-based recommendations that are proportionate and reduce risks. We ask that the government immediately prepare a safe restart plan based on this report and current global policies. With vaccinations ramping up, Canadians need to know they can travel once again.”
The statement went on to say, “As vaccination rates continue to rise, we are optimistic that based off the report’s recommendations, Canadians can look forward to the easement of onerous border measures. WestJet will continue to advocate for policy changes that support Canada’s recovery and the restoration of more than 750,000 travel and tourism industry jobs.”
Federal Government Response: No Immediate Changes
Canada’s federal government appears unmoved. In a joint statement, the Ministers of Health and Public Safety said they “welcomed” the report, but defended current measures, saying that the “requirements are working.”
Rather than adopting any of the panel’s recommendations, Ottawa says it will simply, “continue to monitor” new data and science, and that it will, “consider the Panel’s recommendations to determine how testing and quarantine strategies should evolve to address vaccination status” for travellers.