Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says air travellers should be prepared for COVID-19 testing upon arrival in Canada and hotel quarantine requirements to come into effect as soon as Thursday.
“I would ask people to be prepared as soon as Feb. 4,” Alghabra said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday. “I can’t tell you if that’s exactly when it’s going to start, but I would ask people to be ready for it as soon as possible.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that mandatory PCR testing would soon be required for people returning to Canada, on top of pre-departure test requirements implemented earlier this year.
Travellers will then have to wait up to three days at a government-approved hotel for their results, which Trudeau said must be paid by the traveller and could cost upwards of $2,000.
As of 11.59 p.m. ET Wednesday, all international passenger, private and charter flights — including from the United States and other previously exempted countries — will be funnelled through the Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal airports.
Alghabra said post-arrival testing will take place at those airports, before passengers quarantine at a nearby hotel. That means travellers bound for destinations outside those four cities will need to wait for their test results before continuing on to their final destination — at which point they will still need to have a plan for the remainder of their 14-day quarantine.
There are “very limited exceptions” to these rules, a news release from Transport Canada said.
‘We even considered banning all flights’
Starting Sunday, Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat have also agreed to halt service to Mexico and all Caribbean countries until the end of April.
When asked by CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton why wider travel restrictions were not imposed, Alghabra said the possibility had been considered.
“We thought very hard about it and we considered all options. We even considered banning all flights. But that would have had a detrimental impact on our delivery of essential products and services to Canada,” the minister said.
“So we wanted to make sure that we don’t have a negative impact on other important aspects of our society and our economy…. No one answer is perfect, but combining all of these options together gives us a solid plan to protect Canadians.”
Ottawa still in talks with U.S. over land border measures
Alghabra also said the government remains in talks with the U.S. government over potential new safety measures at land ports of entry.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is taking the lead on those conversations, which concern non-essential travel and the land border shared by the two countries, Alghabra said.
Trudeau said Friday that in the coming weeks, Canada will begin requiring non-essential travellers to show proof of a negative test before entering the land border with the U.S.
U.S. officials are also looking at mandating COVID-19 testing for domestic flights within the country, a move Alghabra said would fall to the provinces to implement here at home.
“We regulate what’s in the air, but we don’t regulate when you cross provincial boundaries,” he said.
You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.