The COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel published a report Thursday on how the federal government should proceed on testing and quarantine rules for incoming international travelers.
The report’s findings include a recommendation to cancel mandatory hotel quarantines and lift quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers. It also stated that the current measures include many loopholes, cause serious hard and are inconsistent with the incubation period of the virus. If the federal government adopts the findings, it would be an admission that the existing requirements missed the mark. If the panel’s recommendations lead to a surge in COVID cases, however, the government would be on the hot seat in the run up to a probable fall election. Regardless, the increased political pressure to ease border testing and quarantine requirements will be hard for the governing Liberals to ignore.
The Liberal government defended their existing border measures in response to the report, but said federal testing and quarantine strategies should evolve to address the vaccination status of travellers. The joint statement by Minister of Health Patty Hajdu and Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair, however, failed to acknowledge that a key recommendation was to ease hotel quarantine requirements even for unvaccinated travellers. At a Friday press conference, Minister Hajdu suggested the next step for Ottawa was to engage with the provinces, that she said were consulted on the current COVID-19 border measures.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford supported the panel’s recommendations and called on the federal government to adopt them.
“The rules are inconsistent; they’re full of loopholes. The federal government has been put on notice by its own experts,” Ford said at a Friday press conference. He didn’t express any worries over the panel’s recommendations at that media availability and said he raised the issue during Thursday night’s meeting between the premiers and the prime minister.
Official Opposition MP Michelle Rempel Garner also put her support behind the report’s findings. She has been very critical of the federal border measures, especially on hotel quarantine.
“Fed govt expert panel recommends immediate end to quarantine hotel / outlines how to safely lift border restrictions. We call upon the Libs to end hotel quarantines and update quarantine reqts according to the latest evidence per this report,” Rempel Garner tweeted Thursday.
With vaccination rates accelerating and reopening plans published by Canada’s four largest provinces, public pressure is increasing to roll back domestic and international travel restrictions.
The Office of the Chief Science Advisor confirmed to Summa on Thursday that it has concluded its study of vaccine passports. The study was on the scientific backing for vaccine passports, rather than their implementation. Several cabinet ministers, including the prime minister, have publicly confirmed that the federal government is working with G7 and G20 allies on the roll out. Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra issued a statement following the G7 transport ministers meeting saying there must be a common platform for recognizing the vaccinated status of travellers.
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Teresa Tam said on May 21st that Canadians could expect changes to policies “soon”. This was in response to a question asked at committee about whether fully vaccinated people would be allowed to travel to Canada this summer. It remains unclear when those changes would be made public.
COVID-19 border restrictions have been a thorny political issue for the federal government. It’s had to navigate the push and pull from concerned Canadians, premiers, opposition MPs, and now the expert advisory panel’s report.
It will be hard for the government to avoid adopting the common-sense recommendations proposed in the report, especially when it comes to and vaccine passports and relaxed border requirements.