Travellers to Canada must still wear masks for two weeks, despite relaxed provincial measures

Despite provinces and territories having lifted most of their pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, the federal government still requires that incoming travellers to Canada wear a mask for two weeks.

The federal government’s current rules state that travellers, including children aged five and up, coming to Canada must wear a “well-constructed and well-fitting mask” for 14 days when in public indoor and outdoor spaces.

Incoming travellers also must keep a list of close contacts and locations visited, as well as copies of their proof of vaccination, according to the government website listing requirements for vaccinated travellers.

In cases where federal rules differ from provincial or territorial ones, travellers must follow the stricter regulations, the federal government says.

Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday that he does not believe the rule is necessary at this stage in the pandemic.

Not only did the rule not make sense when it comes to masking outdoors, unless in a crowded setting, he said, there are also different sub-variants of the highly-infectious Omicron variant now that are dominant worldwide.

“I don’t think that there will be a difference made in the situation we’re in through masking behaviour that is different for travellers coming internationally, as compared with the people here,” he said.

Whether travellers would even follow this rule is something Juni has “serious doubts” about.

A more reasonable alternative, he said, would be to have travellers take rapid tests on the day of their arrival and 24 hours later, swabbing the back of the throat and inside the nose, recording the results and monitoring for symptoms, with perhaps two days of masking in indoor spaces.

“That would be from my perspective a pragmatic solution that could be done,” he said. “Alternatively, just drop the requirement entirely right now.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said all travellers entering Canada must follow the emergency orders under the federal Quarantine Act, in order to “limit the spread of COVID-19 and variants in Canada.”

“Wearing a mask continues to be effective because, when layered with other recommended public health measures, a well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the spokesperson said.

Those who show signs and symptoms, or receive a positive COVID-19 test result, are required to report it within 24 hours to the Public Health Agency of Canada and isolate for 10 days, even if the provincial or territorial isolation period is shorter.

The federal spokesperson also referred CTVNews.ca to the consequences for not complying with the Quarantine Act, which can include possible imprisonment and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

A web page detailing those consequences says the Public Health Agency of Canada works with the RCMP, as well as local and provincial police services, to ensure travellers are compliant and will follow up “as they view most appropriate.”

“The Government of Canada’s priority has been, and will continue to be, the health and safety of all Canadians,” the spokesperson said.

“Throughout this pandemic, science has been the foundation of its response and has guided its decision making, its actions and its guidance to Canadians, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in communities.”

PROVINCES, TERRITORIES LOOSEN RESTRICTIONS

Multiple provinces have ended their mask mandates in most settings, including Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Quebec has extended its mask mandate until April 30 at least, while Prince Edward Island is requiring masks until April 28.

Saskatchewan currently has no COVID-related public health orders in effect.

The territories also have lifted most, or all, of their mask mandates.

On April 1, the federal government loosened testing requirements for international travel, including removing the negative pre-entry COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers, although passengers may be subject to random PCR testing at airports.

In the United States, a federal judge in Florida this week struck down a national mask mandate from the Transportation Security Administration that applied to airplanes, airports, taxis and other mass transit.

The judge ruled that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its authority and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures when it issued the original health order that the TSA directive was based on.

In response to the court ruling, the TSA announced it would no longer enforce its directive. The CDC had previously extended its mask order to May 3.

The ruling, however, does allow airlines and other mass transit to keep mask rules in place if they choose.

Meanwhile in Canada, passengers must wear a mask throughout their entire journey when travelling by air or rail.

Asked about the U.S. court ruling on Tuesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra did not comment directly but said Canada’s mask regulation is based on expert advice and data.

“It is proven that masks prevent or reduce the transmission of COVID,” he said.

However, on Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would appeal the court’s decision if the CDC concludes that the order is necessary for public health.

“I think it would have been reasonable to keep this requirement just for public transport and this, of course, includes airplanes and crowded spaces such as an airport,” Juni said.

“From an epidemiological perspective, this decision in court didn’t make real sense.”

He added that roughly five per cent of Ontario’s population has an active COVID-19 infection, based on factors such as wastewater data, which researchers have increasingly relied upon in recent weeks to estimate daily COVID-19 case counts.

“What this means is it makes perfect sense, irrespective of travelling, to wear a mask in public indoor spaces just for a few more weeks, and this has got nothing to do with travelling,” Juni said.

With files from CTV News

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