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Everybody (except Ottawa) is declaring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic


The federal government is holding fast to virtually every restriction it has imposed during the pandemic

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With B.C.’s announcement last week that it would be phasing out mask and vaccine mandates, all 10 provinces have now set an effective end-date to their treatment of COVID-19 as a public health emergency. By April 27 — the date when Ontario’s pandemic restrictions become the last to expire — mask, vaccine and physical distancing mandates will effectively cease to exist in Canadian daily life.

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Except according to Ottawa. Even as each week yields the end of another provincial COVID mandate, the federal government is continuing to hold fast to virtually every restriction it has imposed over the course of the now two-year pandemic.

Vaccination remains mandatory for any Canadian over the age of 12 looking to board an aircraft, even if it’s a domestic flight. Transport Canada is also continuing to mandate masking aboard flights and in airports.

Travellers at Pearson International Airport on March 11, 2022. Even as multiple provinces have dropped indoor mask mandates, the measure remains in place at airports and rail terminals, which are federally regulated.
Travellers at Pearson International Airport on March 11, 2022. Even as multiple provinces have dropped indoor mask mandates, the measure remains in place at airports and rail terminals, which are federally regulated. Photo by Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Government employment remains barred to anyone who can’t provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination — even to employees who are “teleworking” or “working remotely,” according to official guidelines.

While the federal government dropped the requirement for vaccinated travellers to arrange a $150 PCR test in order to enter Canada, crossing the border still remains subject to a raft of pandemic restrictions.

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Vaccinated travellers must still arrange a supervised antigen test (home rapid tests aren’t allowed), and they may be randomly selected for another test at the border. Unvaccinated travellers, meanwhile, are still required to undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine, even if they provide a negative test result and aren’t showing symptoms.

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In all cases, federal officials have not announced any eventual end-date to these restrictions — or even the metrics by which they would entertain such a thing.

In late February, Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault told a press conference that “a complete lifting of restrictions at this time isn’t good for Canadians or for Canadian businesses.”

On March 3, Conservative MP John Williamson asked Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos in the House of Commons when COVID-19 testing at the border would end. Duclos did not answer the question, and replied only that “Canadians have made the right choice and have been vaccinated and have followed public health measures.”

“It would just be nice for them to discuss what they’re looking for,” said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital.

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Bogoch is not entirely onboard with the provincial trend towards lifting COVID mandates, particularly in regards to masking. But he said it would be nice to hear some “transparency” from the federal government on why so many of their mandates remain in place.

“I’m not sure what the federal government is thinking … even if it’s ‘we’re not sure, we’re watching this week by week,’ that’s fine,” he said.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault pictured in January. Only weeks after imposing curfews and proposing mandatory vaccination in response to the Omicron wave, on Saturday Quebec lifted all COVID strictures except for mask mandates.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault pictured in January. Only weeks after imposing curfews and proposing mandatory vaccination in response to the Omicron wave, on Saturday Quebec lifted all COVID strictures except for mask mandates. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Ottawa’s continued adherence to mandates is spawning increasing pushback from the country’s business sector.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced last Monday that he was lifting an all-out ban on cruise ships docking at Canadian ports, but with the requirement that passengers had to be vaccinated and undergo testing both before and after their trip.

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“If (passengers) are fully vaccinated there is no reason why they would still need a rapid antigen or a PCR test,” Walt Judas, CEO of B.C.’s Tourism Industry Association, told CTV at the time.

Last month, when Transport Canada ended PCR testing requirements at the border in favour of antigen testing, Air Canada and WestJet both called on the feds to end testing on vaccinated travellers altogether. “Other countries have moved to eliminate pre-departure testing requirements entirely,” read a tweet from Air Canada at the time.

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Last week, a coalition of Toronto-based tourism groups publicly similarly called on the federal government to drop border testing requirements for vaccinated travellers no later than April 1.

“Many countries have recognized the time to remove COVID-19 restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers. To set the stage for a complete recovery, Canada needs to join jurisdictions like the United Kingdom and Switzerland in removing restrictions that are no longer needed,” Lindsay Broadhead, a spokesperson for the Toronto Region Board of Trade, told a Friday press conference.

Federal COVID mandates are indeed making Canada an outlier among its G7 peers, particularly at the border.

The U.K. has no testing requirement on vaccinated travellers entering its borders, and doesn’t require quarantine for unvaccinated travellers. France has similarly dropped testing requirements on vaccinated travellers, and even on unvaccinated travellers if they come from a country with low COVID spread (a list that currently includes Canada).

In lieu of a negative COVID test, U.S. border authorities will currently accept proof of “recovery of COVID-19.” Canada does not have anything similar, and will still require two doses of vaccine even for a traveller who has obtained natural immunity from a COVID-19 infection.

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