OTTAWA – Unvaccinated travelers over the age of 12 will no longer be able to board a plane or train in Canada starting today, and a negative COVID-19 test will no longer serve as an option for most people.
The policy went into effect on October 30, but the federal government allowed a shorter transition period for unvaccinated passengers who could board as long as they had tested positive for a negative molecular COVID-19 virus within 72 hours before their trip. 19 tests have been provided.
The strict new requirement goes into effect as Canada responds to the emergence of the new, highly mutated Omicron version of COVID-19.
The discovery of the new version has prompted border closures and heavy screening in Canada and abroad, fearing it may prove more permeable.
According to the World Health Organization, the risk associated with the Omicron variant is very high, but many public health officials and scientists are still not aware of it.
While anyone arriving in Canada or boarding a plane or train inside the country should be vaccinated, there are currently no quarantine measures in place except for those who have recently transited through southern Africa.
While many airlines have so far been conducting random spot checks to ensure passengers are vaccinated, Air Canada and WestJet have confirmed that they will be asking for proof from everyone boarding in Canada to date.
Other measures like masks and health check-ups will still be mandatory.
“If you indicate to your airline or railway company that you are eligible to board, but fail to provide proof of vaccination or a valid COVID-19 test result, you will not be allowed to travel and you will be liable to fine or may face fines,” the government’s website states.
The government has issued a warning on social media that Canadians and even permanent residents abroad will not be able to return home without a full slate of approved vaccines.
There are exceptions, including valid medical exemptions, travel to remote communities accessible only by plane, and those transiting to another destination via Canada.
Most people who qualify for an exemption will need a recent COVID-19 test.
The vaccine mandate received a positive response from Canada’s airline industry when it was first announced in October, although some companies were concerned about making the necessary preparations in time.
Since then the federal government announced a standardized proof-of-vaccination document, which has been distributed by provinces and territories for domestic and international travel.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 30, 2021.