Federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates to be suspended for domestic, outbound travellers

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The Canadian government will “suspend” COVID-19 vaccine mandates for domestic and outbound international travellersministers announced Tuesday.

The new rules will come into effect on June 20, though the requirements for foreign nationals coming to Canada will not change.

Several ministers lauded Canada’s high vaccination rate at a news conference to announce the changes, but Intergovernmental affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc warned the government is prepared to “bring back” necessary policies if there’s a resurgence of the virus in the fall.

Travel industry groups have blamed federal public health measures and mandates for slowdowns at airport customs that have contributed to long waits for passengers and forced flight delays and cancellations.

READ MORE: Canada’s vaccine mandate for travel under scrutiny as much of the world reopens

They have put increasing pressure on the government to do away with them.

The decision to drop the federal mandate is not a response to the situation at Canada’s airports but rather is “based on science,” LeBlanc said.

“We don’t regret at all being cautious when it comes to a virus that has tragically killed tens of thousands of Canadians and millions of people around the world,” he said.

“Acting prudently has saved lives.”

READ MORE: The US cities being most + least affected by airfare hikes

Public health experts have known for six months that a two-dose series of the COVID-19 vaccine does not do a very good job guarding against transmission of the virus.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the reason the government is changing course now is that there are encouraging epidemiological trends anticipated for the next few months.

“The number of hospitalizations, cases and deaths has fallen and experts tell us that we should expect the next few weeks in the summertime … to be relatively good in terms of COVID-19,” Duclos said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported a steadily declining number of COVID-19 cases, though provinces are no longer providing COVID-19 molecular tests for the general public and federal reporting has become less regimented.

NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said the government hasn’t been transparent about the criteria cabinet is using to make public health decisions.

“For over a month we’ve been calling on the government to be more transparent with Canadians — they haven’t been. Now this leaves Canadians asking what’s changed?” he said in a statement.

Travellers will still need to fill out health questions through the ArriveCan app when travelling to Canada, even though the Canadian Airports Council pointed to the added verification as one of the issues causing snarls at customs.

“We’re working on efficiencies to ensure that ArriveCan is less of a source of complaint, however it continues to be a meaningful tool to verify the vaccination status of travellers who are arriving into our borders,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.

He said foreign nationals must still be vaccinated when they come to Canada to protect the country’s health systems. Travellers on federally regulated planes and trains will also still need to wear masks.

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