Canadians looking to drive across the border to the United States for the sole purpose of getting a COVID-19 vaccine are not exempt from mandatory quarantine upon their return.
In a statement late Wednesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said quarantine exemptions now in place are not intended for those travelling abroad to get vaccinated against the coronavirus disease.
“Testing and quarantine exemptions for travellers returning to Canada after receiving essential medical services in a foreign country was not intended to be used for those seeking to receive a COVID-19 vaccination,” a PHAC spokesperson said in an email.
“This provision is in place to allow Canadians who are seeking life-saving medical treatment outside of Canada.”
The statement attempts to clarify reports earlier this week that the vaccine may be considered an essential medical service and Canadians crossing the border could be exempt from the 14-day quarantine when they return.
Earlier this week, Albertans who attended a Montana vaccination clinic were told they were exempted from having to quarantine for 14 days.
The Canada-U.S. border has been closed in light of the pandemic to non-essential travel for purposes such as tourism and recreation since March 2020. Non-essential travellers entering Canada through the land border need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arrival, in addition to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for returning non-essential travellers.
But since February, patients undergoing essential medical treatment can skip those requirements only if they have a written statement from a licensed health care practitioner in Canada — and from a practitioner in the country where they are receiving the treatment.
Some U.S. states have been offering free vaccines to Canadian truck drivers who transport goods across the border. Those essential cross-border workers are not subject to testing and quarantine under federal public health rules.
The health agency said in the statement that “COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in Canada.” Canada has administered 19.4 million doses with 47.9 per cent of the total population having received at least one dose, according to CBC’s vaccine tracking data.
U.S. says vaccine travel not essential
Canada’s top public health agency also points out the decision on whether entry into the U.S. is allowed would fall to American border authorities.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Canadians attempting to drive across the American border solely for a COVID-19 vaccination, even with a doctor’s referral, would be denied entry.
“Travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions,” an agency spokesman said.
“If a person is entering the U.S. for legitimate travel reasons, as allowed under current restriction guidelines, and receives a vaccine incidental to their trip, it is not part of the overall admissibility determination.”
Maximum penalties for failing to comply with mandatory quarantine rules on travellers returning to Canada include a fine of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months.
If someone jeopardizes another’s life “while wilfully or recklessly contravening the act” the penalties are even greater: $1 million or three years in prison, or both.