Feds announce tougher travel restrictions, delay of Moderna vaccine

By Terry Davidson

Law360 Canada (January 29, 2021, 4:51 PM EST) -- Ottawa is tightening restrictions around non-essential international travel by suspending flights to “sun destinations,” limiting the number of available airports to incoming planes and forcing returning passengers to quarantine at designated hotels — at their own expense.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made these announcements during a Jan. 29 address to the nation, which covered off several new strict measures to combat the spread of COIVD-19 and included a revelation that there will be a temporary reduction in shipment of the Moderna vaccine.

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Trudeau began the news conference by announcing that Canada’s major airlines have agreed to suspend service to the Caribbean and Mexico. The suspension, which is being upheld by Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and West Jet, will start Jan. 31 and last until April 30.

This is one of the latest moves in Ottawa’s bid to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the variants of the virus that have emerged as of late.

“[The airlines] will be making arrangements with their customers who are currently on a trip in these regions to organize their return flights,” said Trudeau, who thanked “the leadership [of the air carriers] in making this commitment to suspend flights and be such strong partners in the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.”

“Now is just not the time to be flying,” Trudeau said, adding that Ottawa is “committed to the safe restart and recovery of the Canadian travel and tourism sector as soon as conditions improve — ideally, later this year.”

Trudeau also said that, starting next week, all international passenger flights will be limited to landing at four of Canada’s major airports: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

In the coming weeks, Trudeau said, the government will be making COVID-19 testing at these airports mandatory, and that returning travellers will have to wait for up to three days “at an approved hotel for their test results — at their own expense, which is expected to be more than $2,000.”

“Those with negative test results will then be able to quarantine at home under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement. Those with positive tests will be immediately required to quarantine in designated government facilities to make sure they are not carrying variants of potential concern.”

Trudeau also said plans are in the works to tighten screening at the Canada-U.S. land border, as Ottawa works to have it so travellers coming into Canada will have to pass a COVID-19 test before being granted entry.

As for the current troubles swirling around COVID-19 vaccine delivery, things got worse when it was announced that there will be a temporary reduction of the Moderna vaccine in early February.

“We will receive 78 per cent of the expected amount, translating to 180,000 doses,” said Trudeau. “I want to be clear: We will always share the most accurate information we have, but in the short term, those numbers can fluctuate. But as global productions continues to pick up, there will be more stability in the system and, most importantly, this temporary delay doesn’t change the fact that we will still receive two million doses of the Moderna vaccine, as planned before the end of March.”

This comes following news that there will be a temporary slowdown in the delivery of the Pfizer vaccine as the drug company deals with changes to its manufacturing plant in Belgium.

The Pfizer delay reportedly comes in the form of a 56 per cent cut over five weeks, resulting in around 845,000 fewer doses.  

But Trudeau continued to insist that Canada is still on track to receive four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March. He also said he has been in talks with the drug company about “Canada receiving more doses, ahead of schedule, starting in the spring.”

Trudeau maintained that the ultimate target is getting the vaccine to every Canadian who wants it by the end of September.

During a questions, Trudeau was asked about what motivates the new travel restrictions, given that international travel has accounted for a relatively low number of cases in Canada. He was asked if the emergence of variants of the virus was a driving force.

“We know that these variants represent a real challenge,” Trudeau said. “We’ve seen public health modelling that shows what happens if these variants do take hold in Canada. We saw that one travel case resulted in many, many cases of the U.K. variant in and around Barrie and expanding. We know that just one case of the variant that comes in could cause significant challenges, and that’s why we need to take extra measures. Yes, it is extremely low, the number of cases that are traced back to international travel, but it’s not zero.”

Trudeau would not give specifics when asked about a timeline for the lifting of the travel restrictions.

“We’re doing this to keep as many Canadians alive and healthy as we can through this pandemic,” he said. “We’re taking difficult measures now so that we can get through this quicker, so that we have less damage to our economy, to our industries, to our workers, to our lives. This is something Canada is focused on.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford welcomed Ottawa’s tougher travel measures but said his province will implement mandatory testing for international travellers arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport starting Feb. 1 at noon.

“It looks like these new (federal) measures won’t be fully in place until a few weeks from now,” he said in a Jan. 29 news conference. “That’s a few weeks too long.”

Travellers who refuse the testing, which is being put in place through a section 22 order under section 77.1 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, will be subject to fines starting at $750.

Ford announced the airport testing as part of a six-point plan to limit the spread of the more infectious variants of COVID-19, which the government announced in a Jan. 29 news release. The plan includes enhanced screening and genomic sequencing; strengthened case and contact management; the establishment of a genomics databank and analytics capability; stronger protections for vulnerable populations; and a continuation of current public health and workplace safety measures, including an extension of the current provincial emergency and stay-at-home order until Feb. 9.

The news release notes that, to date, 51 cases of the U.K. variant have been confirmed in the province.

With files from John Schofield

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at t.davidson@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5899.