Majority of international travellers since March deemed 'essential', avoid quarantine

OTTAWA — More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March but fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine — the rest were deemed "essential" travellers and exempted from the requirement.

Canada began to limit foreign travel in March, first asking Canadians themselves to avoid non-essential travel outside the country, and then as of March 16 barring entry to anyone who wasn't Canadian, a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen.

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The ban was extended to include Americans on March 21. The 30-day closure of the U.S. border has now been extended seven times, and while it's currently set to expire Nov. 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated to an Ontario radio station Friday that he is not anxious to reopen the border any time soon.

"I think we all want to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. We also know that in order to get things back to normal we have to control the spread of COVID-19," Trudeau said on CKSY in Chatham-Kent Friday morning.

"At this point, the risks are still too great to reopen the border."

Canadians and permanent residents are allowed to return home, but must quarantine for 14 days unless they fall into an essential category, like truck drivers, airline crew members, the military or people coming to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essential travellers are asked to wear masks when they can't physically distance from others, and medical workers are asked not to treat people over the age of 65 for 14 days.

Essential travellers also made up the bulk of arrivals according to data provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada. It said 3.5 million travellers, as of Oct. 20, had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential and were asked to quarantine for two weeks.

PHAC follows up with most asked to quarantine with live or automated calls, and has asked RCMP or local police to verify the whereabouts of 247,137 people asked to quarantine.

The agency said 76 tickets and eight summons have been issued to people found in violation of the quarantine order.

PHAC's statistics do vary from data published weekly by the Canada Border Services Agency, which lists total arrivals by land, rail and air, as well as whether air travellers arrived from the U.S. or another country.

That data shows travel to this country plunged more than 90 per cent since the borders were closed compared to the same period in 2019.

Almost half of all the travellers arriving since March were truck drivers, according to CBSA.

CBSA also says 63 per cent of air travellers were either Canadians or permanent residents.

Cole Davidson, spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said the border closure is critical to Canada's COVID-19 strategy.

"This is an important tool in keeping our families and communities safe, and it’s working," he said.

Health Canada data covering 80 per cent of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date shows about 4.4 per cent of them involved recent travellers or people who had come into contact with them.

The government began allowing foreign nationals who are immediate relatives of a Canadian or permanent resident to come to Canada in June, and more recently expanded that to include extended family members, such as grandparents or siblings, as well as international students.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.

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