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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 4, 2020
Atlantic Canadians are excited about being able to travel within the region without having to go into quarantine, but they’re also a little worried — an American visitor brought COVID-19 with him recently, and there have been multiple exposure warnings on flights within and to Canada.
Additionally, people have taken to social media to question the presence of U.S. and Canadian licence plates on vehicles showing up in their communities.
SaltWire Network sifted through national and provincial guidelines to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about who is allowed to visit and what they must do when they arrive.
Who can enter Canada?
There are strict rules, set by the federal government and enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Canada closed its borders to citizens of most countries in mid-March and to U.S. citizens several days later. The U.S. travel ban, which is reciprocal, extends until July 21, and the international ban until July 31, but both can be extended. Canadian citizens, dual citizens, permanent residents and those registered under the Indian Act can travel to and from Canada freely by right, but are required to self-isolate under the Quarantine Act upon return.
Foreign nationals are not allowed in for “optional or discretionary purposes, such as tourism, recreation or entertainment,” according to the ban.
There are exceptions. They include: essential workers critical to Canada’s economy and infrastructure; emergency and medical workers; air crew; those with valid work or study permits or assisting with COVID-19 response; diplomats; French citizens who live in St-Pierre-et-Miquelon and have only been in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, the United States or Canada during the last 14 days before entry; and anyone whose presence in Canada is determined by the government to be in the national interest.
There are also allowances for refugee claimants, except those who have arrived at the U.S. land border. They would be turned back.
As of June 8, foreign nationals who are immediate family of a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident are allowed to enter so long as they can show they are staying for at least 15 days.
No one showing symptoms of COVID-19 is allowed to travel to Canada.
The CBSA, which is responsible for permitting or denying entry to Canada, says officers query travellers and are trained to observe visible signs of illness. They will refer any traveller who they suspect of being ill for a health assessment.
Do visitors have to self-isolate?
Yes, but there are quite a few exceptions, including airline crew, emergency services providers, those essential to the delivery of goods, health-care workers, individuals receiving essential medical treatment, diplomats and representatives from other countries, members of the Canadian Forces or a visiting force, fishing crew who enter Canada aboard a Canadian or foreign fishing vessel for the purpose of carrying out fishing or fishing-related activities, those who live in border communities and must cross the border to carry out essential daily activities, and anyone whose presence in Canada is determined by the government to be in the national interest.
Even though they are exempted from having to self-isolate, people in these categories are expected to practice physical distancing, use a mask or face covering when they cannot maintain physical distancing, self-monitor for symptoms, stay in their place of residence as much as possible and follow the instructions of the local public health authority if they feel sick.
Everyone else who enters Canada, symptomatic or not, must go into quarantine for a period of 14 days. The traveller will be interviewed to ensure they have a place to quarantine where they are not exposed to vulnerable individuals and that they have a plan in place for the delivery of necessities. They must also give CBSA contact information so they can be reached during their time in quarantine.
They then must travel directly to their final destination while wearing an approved face covering. If symptoms of COVID-19 develop during the isolation period, their quarantine is extended for an additional 14 days. Travellers can only leave their place of quarantine to seek medical attention, and they may not have visitors.
If a traveller cannot demonstrate their ability to go into quarantine safety, they will be sent to one of a number approved federally-run quarantine sites.
Travellers are encouraged to use private transposition to get to their final destinations, and those who are symptomatic are prohibited from using public transportation.
What happens if someone doesn’t follow the rules?
Failing to comply with isolation orders and border restrictions under the federal Quarantine Act is punishable by fines of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months.
If someone causes risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening the act, penalties can reach $1 million in fines, and/or imprisonment of up to three years. Provinces may impose additional fines and restrictions.
The provincial health authority is responsible for tracking and monitoring individuals allowed entry. It’s not clear how thoroughly that is being done.
What about after the quarantine period?
Travellers to Canada who have completed the 14-day self-isolation period are free to travel around Canada as long as they follow the local public health guidelines and restrictions.
All four Atlantic provinces require a secondary quarantine period for anyone arriving in the province from outside the region — regardless if they are a Canadian citizen or foreign national — while others do not. For example, if you are an American citizen who has travelled to Ontario and completed the 14-day mandatory self-isolation, you are free to travel within Ontario or to Quebec, but would have to self-isolate again if travelling to the Atlantic provinces.
Both Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia are considering lifting this restriction so Canadians from outside the region can travel there without a mandatory quarantine.
Can anyone travel to any province as long as they self-isolate?
No, some provinces are not allowing any outside visitors, and, in Atlantic Canada, all provinces require self-isolation for 14 days for anyone travelling to the province from outside the Atlantic bubble, even if they are citizens.
In Nova Scotia, no one requires special permission to enter, but anyone who is entering the province must immediately self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. Newfoundland and Labrador requires all travellers from outside the Atlantic region to acquire a travel exemption from the province to enter, and must self-isolate for 14 days. Travellers who arrive at provincial points of entry who do not meet eligibility criteria are advised that they must leave the province.
P.E.I. grants entry to those from outside of Atlantic Canada, but only if they have a pre-approved travel exemption. These exemptions include those who own property in P.E.I. and are considered seasonal residents.
New Brunswick allows for travel from outside of the Atlantic bubble under certain humanitarian or compassionate purposes, such as to attend a funeral, with or without an exemption from the requirement of self-isolation. Canadian residents who own property in New Brunswick or have family living in the province can enter provided they self-isolate for 14 days.
All provinces have allowances for essential travel.
How does the Atlantic bubble work?
In general, any citizen who lives in Atlantic Canada may travel anywhere in the region without the need to self-isolate, providing they are healthy. Anyone who has travelled to the Atlantic provinces from other provinces and can prove they have completed 14 days of self-isolation is also free to travel within the region.
All provinces require some sort of proof of residence (government-issued ID, utility bill or bank statement) in Atlantic Canada to enter.
There have been discrepancies between provinces regarding entry guidelines that have raised concerns from others. Recently a traveller passing through Nova Scotia after travelling from the U.S. to Canada via Toronto on a student visa was denied entry to P.E.I. because he didn’t have the proper documentation and did not self-isolate upon arrival in Nova Scotia. The traveller tested positive for COVID-19 after being denied entry to P.E.I. and is being held at a federal quarantine facility.
In response to this, as of July 7, all travellers to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic provinces must complete a self-declaration form that provides information on where they plan to self-quarantine, as well as contact information so officials can follow up daily. Other Atlantic bubble provinces already required similar paperwork.
What about air travel?
Right now, only four Canadian airports allow international flights to land: Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. However, asymptomatic passengers on those flights deemed safe may board a connecting flight to their final destination.
That means international travellers that have been permitted to enter Canada and Canadian citizens travelling to other parts of Canada who need to self-isolate upon arrival could be on the same plane as those who do not (for example, someone flying within the Atlantic provinces).
There are, however, significant screening protocols in place that prevent symptomatic individuals from getting on a flight to or within Canada, and by the end of September temperature screening will be instituted in Canada’s 15 largest airports, including Halifax and St. John’s, and checks will be required as part of the departure procedure for domestic, transporter and international flights.
Mask-wearing, where physical distancing is not possible, has been proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by stopping the spread of droplets from a sick person, and all major airlines in Canada currently have mandatory mask-wearing as part of their protocols.
Only Canadian citizens and permanent residents or foreign nationals exempt from the travel ban are allowed to travel to Canada via any means, including by air.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify who Nova Scotia requires a declaration form from upon entry.