Most incoming travelers will be required to quarantine in government-approved hotels at their own expense, and flights to the sun-soaked Caribbean and Mexico will be suspended through April.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement as his government responds to new and worrying variants identified in several provinces.
“As soon as possible in the coming weeks, we will be introducing mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people returning to Canada. Travelers will then have to wait for up to three days at a government-approved hotel for their test results at their own expense,” Trudeau said during a news conference in Ottawa.
Those with negative results will quarantine at home “under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement,” he said. “Those with positive tests will be immediately required to quarantine in designated government facilities to make sure they’re not carrying variants of potential concern.”
These measures step up an existing mandatory 14-day quarantine for most travelers.
The suspension of flights on Canadian air carriers to the Caribbean and Mexico begins Sunday and is set to last at least through April.
New rules mean high costs for discretionary travel
The new rules and testing regime will apply to all travelers arriving from air, land and sea borders who are not exempt, regardless of nationality or residency status. Those with exemptions include essential workers including truck drivers, flight crews and healthcare workers.
Martin Firestone, a travel insurance adviser in Ontario, said clients started contacting him as soon as the government made the announcement Friday even though Trudeau has been warning for days that new travel restrictions would be announced.
He says the new measures will make it difficult and costly for most Canadians to travel for vacation or other discretionary purposes.
“Trudeau will basically now have no worries about people going away, he’s done it,” said Firestone in an interview with CNN.
Government officials say most travelers can expect to be charged about US$1,500 per traveler for the new hotel quarantine, for a stay of about three days. Some of those costs are related to testing and surveillance.
“There are health measures, security measures, testing measures and transport measures, all of which we don’t believe Canadian taxpayers should be on the hook for paying any part of the cost for the choice and decision that some individual has made to engage in nonessential, discretionary travel,” said Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister during a news conference Friday.
Officials still working on closing US ‘loophole’
Blair added that there are ongoing discussions with the Biden administration on a number of measures to further curb nonessential travel between the United States and Canada.
He repeated that the US has a “loophole” in place that allows nonessential air travel from Canada into the United States.
The government also announced enhanced surveillance for those travelers who test negative and are then allowed to continue their 14-day quarantine at home.
“There will be increased security contractors that will do more, I would say, ‘door knocking’, to check on people who are in quarantine,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, on Friday, adding that the contractors would start in 35 Canadian cities and would expand farther in the coming weeks.
In data provided to CNN, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says thousands of Americans have been turned away at the Canadian border because the purpose of travel was deemed “discretionary.”
From March 22, 2020, the day that border restrictions were first put in place between the US and Canada, until this week, more than 30,000 travelers from the US were denied entry.
According to the CBSA, most said they wanted to enter Canada for tourism, recreation or nonessential shopping.