Some good news came out from Health Canada just in time for the holiday season, as it was officially announced that Health Canada had approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. This news came following United States approval of the vaccine, and Health Canada’s earlier approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Approval of the two vaccines means that the first set of doses were delivered earlier than expected.
Canada is expecting to acquire 1.2 million doses of the vaccines by the end of January, and the government is pushing to acquire even more doses by working with both Moderna and Pfizer, with the number of doses received expected to rise throughout the winter. A massive advantage of Canada approving the Moderna vaccine is that it can be stored at -20 °C, rather than the -60 to -80 °C required for the Pfizer vaccine. This means that more facilities can store the Moderna vaccine without necessitating specialized equipment.
Despite the seemingly positive future outlook on the virus, the Canadian government is still worried about its citizens. The government recently launched a new advertising campaign that implores Canadians not to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign targets “snowbirds” who generally travel south for the winter, detailing the risks of travel during the pandemic. The ad campaign is set to run until March, as the Canadian government is still heavily cautioning against non-essential travel. This campaign comes amidst record-high numbers of new infections in some provinces, such as Ontario. Further, as airlines report an increase in travel for the holiday season, the infection rate could grow even higher.
The Canadian government also recently banned travel from the United Kingdom, as there was a new variant of the COVID-19 virus recently discovered there. This ban is indicative of how quickly the rules for travel can change, which is another point of caution for those who are looking to travel. Changing travel rules could leave Canadians stranded in a foreign country for an extended amount of time if a new ban is imposed while they are abroad. The reality of the situation is that things are still extremely fluid, and travellers cannot count on the regulations to be consistent from the time they leave the country to their planned return. Further, those who do leave Canada should be sure they have adequate travel insurance to cover them in the event they require medical attention while abroad.
Underscoring the risk of travel is the number of flights that have had potential COVID-19 exposure. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 1,300 flights since the beginning of September have either landed or taken off in Canada with potential COVID-19 exposures. This includes at least 200 flights in the past two weeks. Flying in order to visit family members during the holidays or escape to a warmer climate creates a risk of infection. Even if the risk of infection from flying is small according to chief public health officer Theresa Tam, non-essential travel is still not recommended.
If you must travel, Transport Canada recommends the Via Rail system as an alternative to flying, as they have limited seating to 58% of normal capacity in order to provide safe and effective service. Between March 1, and December 1 of this year there were only 31 possible exposures of COVID-19 onboard Via Rail trains, so it appears that travelling by train may be a safer option than flying if you must travel. Although it has been a tough, strange year, and everyone now more than ever could use some relaxing holiday time, it is still not the best idea to travel in the immediate future. If you have already made the decision to travel, perhaps consider choosing less risky alternatives to flying in order to reach your destination.
Make sure you stay updated on regional restrictions and regulations before you make travel arrangements. If you are trying to travel make sure you qualify as essential or prepare an exemption request. Depending on where you are going, you may also need a 14-day quarantine plan. If you have questions about where you can travel, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing to monitor the immigration fallout in relation to COVID-19 on both sides of the border and will provide updates as the situation develops. If you have any questions about your potential classification as essential or about how you should comply with the changing regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.