COVID-19 restrictions lifted, but unvaccinated Canadians still unable to board planes or trains

Because she is unvaccinated against COVID-19, Tamika McIntosh of Brampton, Ont., Was not allowed to board a plane to fly to Jamaica last month to attend her grandfather’s funeral.

Now McIntosh is searching the news daily for any indication of when Canada may revoke its vaccine mandate for travelers so she can finally go to Jamaica and show her last honor.

“You do not get the closure when you can not physically be there to say goodbye,” McIntosh said. “Until I physically get to go to his grave and spend some time there, that void will always be open.”

Canada’s vaccine mandate – which went into effect in November 2021 to increase vaccination rates – prevents unvaccinated Canadians from boarding a commercial plane or train in Canada to both domestic and international destinations. Now that COVID-19 restrictions are fast disappearing, some unvaccinated Canadians are questioning why the federal government is still upholding the mandate.

“I do not think it is fair,” McIntosh said. “I do not have mobility rights. I am still stuck in a country and I can not travel.”

Although COVID-19 vaccines available in Canada have been considered safe and effective by Health Canada and other regulators, McIntosh still has reservations about getting the shot.

“I just feel like I have the right to choose,” she said.

Tamika McIntosh of Brampton, Ont., With her late grandfather, Melsome Lee, left, and uncle, Andrew Lee, right, in 2017. Melsome Lee died earlier this year, but McIntosh, who has chosen not to be vaccinated, may not fly to Jamaica to visit his grave until Canada cancels its vaccine mandate. (Posted by Tamika McIntosh)

Provinces drop most vaccine mandates

More than 85 percent of Canadians five years and older are now fully vaccinated

Meanwhile, following a drop in COVID-19 cases following the Omicron wave, Canada’s provinces are dropping most or all of their vaccine mandates. This means that unvaccinated people can return to places such as restaurants, gyms and hockey matches.

They are also welcome in many countries such as England, Ireland, Iceland and Norway, who have dropped all of their COVID-19 travel restrictions. Other countries, such as Greece and Jamaica allow unvaccinated travelers to enter with a negative COVID-19 test.

The Canadian government “is not aware of the things that are going on in other countries,” said Kathy Neudorf of Langley, BC, who is also unvaccinated and eager to travel.

“I do not have the freedom to come and go as I choose … I can not even take over to Quebec or anything because I can not get on a plane.”

Kathy Neudorf from Langley, BC, and her American husband, David Johnson, are both unvaccinated. (Posted by Kathy Neudorf)

Global COVID-19 re-flare may delay the plan

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Teresa Tam, said Ottawa is reviewing its vaccine mandates for both travelers and federal workers with a view to dropping them. But she suggested current resurgence of COVID-19 cases globally could delay that plan.

“The potential for the Omicron resurgence, especially the subtype BA.2, may still occur. So I think this is just waiting to see what happens to that situation,” she said at a meeting of the House of Commons Health Committee on Monday.

At the same meeting, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos offered no timetable for ending federal vaccine mandates, but said the decision would be based on a number of factors, including COVID-19 case numbers, declining immunity and vaccination rates.

Although Canada’s vaccination rate is high, Duclos noted that less than 60 percent of Canadian adults have received their booster shots.

“We need more than that to protect against Omicron and future variants,” he said.

Currently, Canadians do not need a booster shot to qualify as fully vaccinated.

Many who have been vaccinated still receive COVID-19, an expert states

Some doctors say it’s time for Canada to reconsider its vaccine mandate for travelers.

Infection doctor Dr. Zain Chagla points out that many people who were vaccinated also received COVID-19.

“Knowing that two doses of vaccines are unlikely to prevent much transmission, it really begins to punch holes in the fact that this mandate is intended to [prevent] transmission, “said Chagla, a physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

He urges people to be vaccinated, as data show that vaccines can help prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19.

See: Canada completes pre-arrival testing for vaccinated travelers:

Canada completes COVID-19 testing prior to arrival for fully vaccinated travelers

Fully vaccinated travelers will no longer be required to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in Canada by plane or car from April 1st. There is concern that it is too early for Ottawa to drop the rule given the growing number of cases in Europe and Asia. 1:43

But Chagla said that now that the provinces have dropped their vaccine mandates, it would make sense for the federal government to follow suit.

“Taking on a domestic flight and sitting in … Scotiabank Center for a Raptors game – the risks are not that far away,” he said. “But one of these events requires proof of vaccine mandate.”

Unvaccinated pose a greater risk of infecting others: the epidemiologist

Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine has a different view. He argues that the vaccine mandate for travelers should remain until the majority of the global population is fully vaccinated.

He said that although vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, the unvaccinated pose a greater risk of infecting others because they can carry the virus for longer.

“They will excrete the virus, more of it for longer, which actually means they will be more effective transmitters of the virus to others,” said Muhajarine, a professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan and a member of the federal government’s Coronavirus. Variants Rapid Response Network.

Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine says Canada should not drop its vaccine mandate for travelers until the majority of the global population is fully vaccinated. (University of Saskatchewan)

Nazeem also said it could be problematic if Canada would drop the vaccine mandate and then reintroduce it at another time if the pandemic worsens.

“Trying to reintroduce it is awkward and it’s never good policy,” he said. “People are confused.”

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