Ottawa should let fully vaccinated travellers skip Canada’s hotel quarantine

Aaron Burnett is a German-Canadian writer and journalist based in Berlin.

After I managed to get an appointment for my second COVID-19 vaccine in Berlin, I quickly called my mom in Calgary. With her second dose scheduled for July, the two of us shared our excitement and relief. Finally, after a challenging year, we’d both be fully vaccinated by midsummer and can visit each other safely. So, when can one of us make the trip? Canada’s ill-conceived hotel quarantine policy means we’re still not sure.

That’s because under the current rules, we’d have to fork out hundreds, or thousands, of extra dollars – even after we’ve both done our bit by getting our shots – as I would be forced into a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine. It’s time we heard from the government about what restrictions it will lift for people who’ve had both doses.

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Right after hotel quarantine was introduced, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told Question Period even vaccinated travellers would have to quarantine because the science wasn’t clear on whether the vaccinated were still infectious. She then said the Trudeau government “will be sharing the understandings and knowledge of vaccination as it becomes clear with Canada and the world.”

Fast forward three months. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just updated its guidelines[1] for what activities fully vaccinated people can do again safely, including having dinner at a restaurant indoors. Where I live in Germany, the government says it expects to announce what freedoms the fully vaccinated will be able to enjoy again soon. It’s widely rumoured such travellers won’t have to quarantine. Ireland has dropped mandatory hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers, but has kept it in place for the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, the European Union is working on a common vaccination certificate for its citizens and is also expected to allow fully vaccinated Americans to visit this summer. Two friends of mine in long-standing relationships with American boyfriends are already eagerly searching for flights.

In my home country of Canada, where my parents still live? Nothing.

In late March, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said it was too early to update guidelines for vaccinated Canadians. At around the same time, the American CDC noted[2] that relaxing certain measures, including quarantine restrictions, might help encourage more people to get their jab. Given its current data on around 87 million fully vaccinated Americans, the CDC also reported that “breakthrough cases,” where a fully vaccinated person still gets COVID-19, are exceedingly rare.

In Israel and Britain, which have both vaccinated over half their populations with at least one dose, case numbers have plummeted. Britain announced dates for its phased reopening months ago. Scroll through Israeli social media and you’ll find pictures of people gaining entry into concerts after brandishing their vaccination certificates. Israeli Health Ministry data suggest[3] vaccination not only greatly reduces the risk of infection – but transmission as well.

If other countries are already acting on scientific data demonstrating how vaccination can reduce transmission, why has Canada still not announced a plan – or even a timeline for when we might expect one? Doing so would give Canadians some hope that life will return to some semblance of normal. It could well encourage more people to book their vaccine appointments quickly. Instead, current Canadian policy – particularly hotel quarantine – risks keeping families like mine apart even when we’re likely not at risk to one another.

It also incentivizes Canadians to either find loopholes or essentially invent their own rules where guidelines don’t exist. Since hotel quarantine applies only to air travellers, the recent boom in Canadians using cross-border taxis[4] to get around hotel quarantine illustrates this rather pointedly. Meanwhile, those who exercise their public responsibility by getting vaccinated are still left with little, except perhaps an expensive hotel bill.

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It’s obvious by now that vaccinating our way to herd immunity is the key ingredient to ending the pandemic. It’s time the federal government did more to incentivize it, and gradually ease the toll COVID-19 has taken on our lives. The data is there. The experiences from other countries are there as reference. The vaccine shipments are coming in. It’s time to give some hope to Canadians willing to get their shots. Vaccinated Canadians will have performed an invaluable public responsibility. The federal government needs to present guidelines that begin restoring their freedoms.

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References

  1. ^ guidelines (can01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com)
  2. ^ noted (can01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com)
  3. ^ suggest (can01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com)
  4. ^ cross-border taxis (www.theglobeandmail.com)
  5. ^ Sign up today (www.theglobeandmail.com)