The removal of mask mandates and vaccine requirements has medical professionals and front-line workers reiterating that COVID-19 is still a threat.
The federal government announced on Monday that starting Oct. 1, all COVID-19 entry restrictions will be removed, including testing, quarantine and isolation requirements for anyone entering Canada.
A professor of epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, Nazeem Muhajarine, said that the lifting of restrictions did not come as a surprise to him and other medical professionals as Canada could only last so long before joining other countries' regulatory practices.
Canada is one of the last countries to remove travel requirements following the U.S. and the U.K. — yet, Muhajarine said, the removal of the requirements does not mean the removal of the threat of COVID-19.
"On the one hand saying that there's no restrictions now applied, and on the other hand saying that the pandemic is not over, those two things seem to not go hand in hand," said Muhajarine.
"From the beginning, my mantra as tourism minister was safety first, and then travel," said Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault in a video statement.
The minister of tourism said that the measures will remain flexible and adaptable, guided by science to make sure that travellers are kept safe while helping the tourism sector recover.
Muhajarine said that passengers should continue to wear a mask through all stages of the travel process, to reduce the number of potential infections.
Leslie Dias, the director of airlines for Unifor, a union representing many of Canada’s airport staff, said that there has been a mixed response from workers as some are happy to no longer have to enforce restrictions while others are concerned about the health of them and their family.
Further concern remains around the timing of the removal of restrictions as mandates will be lifted just before the start of what could be a more intense flu season, said Muhajarine.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents many of Canada’s flight attendants, has called upon the federal government to ensure sufficient workplace personal protective equipment is provided to staff once the mandate has been lifted.
President of CUPE’s airline division, Wesley Lesosk, also said in a statement that they are thankful members will no longer have to fulfill the difficult role of "mask police" on top of their many other duties onboard.
“The timing of lifting the mandate isn’t ideal,” said Dias. “But let’s face it, there’s also a number of people who are really happy that the mandate is being lifted.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.
Caitlin Yardley, The Canadian Press