Getting on a plane soon? Here’s what you need to know about new vaccination requirements

Getting on a plane soon_ Here's what you need to know about new vaccination requirements-Milenio Stadium-Canada
The federal government is announcing new details about exemptions and grace periods to its vaccine mandate for travelers on air, rail and air. Starting on Oct. 30, all travellers must be fully vaccinated, except in some cases. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The federal government announced new exemptions and a grace period for unvaccinated foreign nationals today, along with details of its vaccine mandate for travellers that takes effect tomorrow.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra spoke at Toronto Pearson Airport about Transport Canada’s final orders and guidance, issued to airlines and railways following consultations.

Starting at 3 a.m. on Oct. 30, all travellers in Canada aged 12 and older must be fully vaccinated before boarding planes, trains or cruise ships in this country. Even those fully vaccinated need to show proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test upon returning to Canada. Ottawa is facing pressure to drop that requirement.

Canadians travelling abroad will need to follow the rules of the specific airline and country they are entering, which may include testing.

According to the government’s rules, travellers should be fully vaccinated two weeks prior to travel.

If travellers have started the vaccination process but have not yet completed it, they can show proof of a valid COVID-19 molecular test until Nov. 29. As of Nov. 30, the unvaccinated will not be eligible to travel, except for limited exemptions.

“Let me be very clear. If you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of November, you will not be allowed to board a plane or train in Canada,” Alghabra said.

But the transport minister said there would be a “few exceptions” for “emergencies and special accommodation for designated remote communities so residents can continue to access essential services.”

Alghabra said that after consultations with Indigenous communities, provinces and territories, the government recognizes that there are several communities where the only way in or out for most of the year is by plane, and some may need to travel for emergency reasons.

“Those are communities that have very little if no access to the outside world other than travelling by plane,” he said.

Also new today is that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) will support operators by confirming vaccination status.

To qualify as a fully vaccinated traveller to Canada, you must have received at least 2 doses of a Government of Canada-accepted COVID-19 vaccine or a mix of 2 accepted vaccines.

Grace period for unvaccinated foreign travellers leaving Canada

Alghabra also announced new “transitional measures” for unvaccinated foreign nationals who don’t live in Canada and entered the country before Oct. 30. They will have until Feb. 28 to show proof of a valid COVID-19 molecular test in order to board a flight taking them out of the country.

After Feb. 28, foreign nationals who want to leave Canada will need to get fully vaccinated, he said.

The government already said in August that all employers in federally regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors are required to roll out mandatory vaccination policies for their organization by tomorrow.

After a short transition period, companies must guarantee staff, including those who work at restaurants and retail stores at airports, are fully vaccinated; those who aren’t could be forced off the job.

Alghabra did not provide an update on the government’s work on a standardized vaccine certificate but said he wanted to “thank everyone who has done the right thing and gotten vaccinated.”

QR code-Milenio Stadium-Canada
The federal government is still working on a standardized vaccine certificate for Canadians to use while travelling, rather than relying on each province’s proof of vaccination. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Alghabra told CBC’s Rosemary Barton earlier this month that the federal government was continuing to work with provinces and territories to come up with a standardized certificate that likely would include a QR code for travellers to use at the airport.

Alghabra said then that he expected the project to be completed in a matter of weeks.

The vaccine mandate for travellers was one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promises during the recent campaign. His deputy, Chrystia Freeland,has said that the Liberals heard strong support for vaccine mandates while door-knocking during the campaign.

Roughly 72 per cent of Canada’s total population is fully vaccinated.

The Conservatives have argued against vaccine mandates, saying that while they encourage Canadians to get vaccinated, it’s a matter of personal choice. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has accused Trudeau of politicizing the issue of vaccines and creating division in the country.

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