Confused about Ottawa’s strict new rules designed to discourage travel during the COVID-19 pandemic?
You’re not alone.
After the federal government announced the new travel measures on Jan. 29, CBC News was flooded with emails from Canadians wanting to know more — including how Ottawa came up with a $2,000 hotel quarantine bill.
So far, the government has offered only broad details about the new rules, but it promises to provide more information in the coming days.
Here’s what we know now.
Air passenger rules explained
Some of the government’s new travel measures are already in place. On Jan. 31, Canada’s major airlines — in an agreement with Ottawa — cancelled all flights to Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30.
Several American airlines still fly from Canada to those destinations, but passengers will encounter at least one U.S. stopover along the way.
Canada’s airlines are still flying to the United States, because essential workers need to travel between Canada and the U.S. during the pandemic, Transport Canada told CBC News on Thursday.
Canada-bound passengers must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight, and all flights entering the country are now being funnelled into four major airports in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.
According to the government, most air passengers entering Canada will soon be required to take another COVID-19 test upon arrival and wait for the results — up to three days — in a designated hotel. Passengers who test negative can leave and finish the rest of their 14-day quarantine at home.
Those with positive test results will be required to stay at a designated government facility.
What about the cost?
Passengers will be billed for their hotel stay, and Ottawa has suggested the cost could be about $2,000. It’s unclear if two people sharing a room would have to pay double that amount.
Many people have questioned how a three-day stay in a hotel could total $2,000. The government says the amount would also cover related expenses, such as the cost of the test, transportation, hotel security and added health protections for hotel staff. Presumably, meals would be included as well.
“It’s not just simply the cost of a hotel room,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Jan. 29.
He said travellers shouldn’t balk at the price tag.
“We think that if they’re going to make that choice [to travel], that they should bear the full cost and responsibility of all the measures that are necessary to keep Canadians safe.”
Any exceptions to the rule?
The government has said that there will be “limited exceptions” to the hotel quarantine requirement, but it hasn’t yet laid out who will be exempt. At a news conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that there could be some wiggle room for extreme cases.
“Obviously, there may be particular compassionate or humanitarian exceptions that must be made in given situations, and we’ll look at those,” he said.
WATCH | Do new COVID-19 travel restrictions go far enough?:
Some snowbirds who have already received the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida have asked CBC News if they’ll be exempt from the hotel quarantine requirement.
Ottawa says no, at least not at this time.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Friday that it’s unclear if vaccinated people can still get the virus without developing symptoms and then infect others.
“The scientific principle underpinning the application of vaccines for international travel cannot be made at this time, because we do not know if the vaccines reduce transmission,” she told CBC News.
When will the hotel quarantine rule take effect?
The start date is still up in the air.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra suggested last Sunday that air passengers could be ushered into hotels as early as Feb. 4.
But on Feb. 2, Trudeau indicated that it could be weeks before the hotel quarantine requirement takes effect.
“We hope to have that implemented within the month — weeks to come,” he said in French at a news conference. “People are working very hard to create a system so that it is established before people start travelling for the March break.”
What happens if I refuse to comply?
In a news release announcing the new travel measures, the government also laid out the fines for breaking the country’s quarantine requirement. Violators could face serious penalties, including six months in jail and/or up to $750,000 in fines.
What about the land border?
Because the Canada-U.S. land border is closed to non-essential traffic, most of the people currently crossing into Canada by land are essential workers who are exempt from quarantine.
But some snowbirds who flew to U.S. sunbelt states this winter shipped their cars across the border and plan to drive back home.
At this point, the hotel quarantine rule won’t apply to travellers crossing into Canada by land. But the government has indicated it’s working on tougher rules at the land border, such as a COVID-19 test requirement for non-essential travellers.
“We’re also looking at ways to further strengthen our land border measures,” Trudeau said on Friday. “We’ll have more to announce on this soon.”
Ontario reveals more details on COVID-19 vaccination plan, but most won't get a reservation for months – CBC.ca
An online portal for booking appointments for COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario is set to launch on March 15, the head of the province’s immunization task force said Wednesday, but it will likely be months longer before many people are able to get a reservation.
The announcement from retired general Rick Hillier comes as members of the general public in both Alberta and Quebec will be able to start booking appointments this week.
Hillier said the delay in launching Ontario’s version is because the focus until that point will be on populations that don’t require an appointment, such as patient-facing health-care workers and essential caregivers for long-term care residents.
“I would have liked to have it earlier, quite frankly,” Hillier told reporters, adding that health authorities are working “furiously” to test the system.
When the online portal, along with a telephone booking system, launch in March, Ontarians aged 80 and over will be the next priority. Hillier cautioned that anyone who is not in that age group, or who is not trying to make a reservation for a person in the 80-plus age group, will not be able to book an appointment in the weeks that follow.
Officials expect to begin vaccinating people 80 years and over by the third week of March.
The proposed schedule in the following weeks, Hillier said, will look something like this as long as supplies of vaccine stay steady:
- April 15: vaccinations begin for people 75 years old and over.
- May 1: vaccinations begin for people 70 years old and over.
- June 1: vaccinations begin for people 65 years and over.
- July 1: vaccinations begin for people 60 years and over.
Essential workers, meanwhile, should begin getting their shots the first week in May, Hillier said, with the final decision about who qualifies in that category still to come from cabinet. The task force has already submitted its recommendations, he added.
Hillier wouldn’t say when those 60 years old and under who are not essential workers should expect to start getting shots.
“A great question, we don’t need to answer it right now. Early summer is when we might be able to discuss that issue,” Hillier said.
WATCH | Retired general Rick Hillier on Ontario’s vaccine rollout timeline:
He also did not provide even a rough timeline for when people under 60 with underlying medical conditions or those living in higher-risk neighbourhoods might expect to be given a first dose of vaccine.
Hillier did say, however, that where Ontarians can expect to get a shot will be based on their postal code. They will be delivered through a combination of mass vaccination clinics, community centre programs pharmacies.
Asked why Ontario’s platform wasn’t launched sooner considering Alberta and Quebec residents will be booking vaccines imminently, Ford said at a news conference Wednesday that he respectfully disagrees the province is lagging behind.
Ford pointed to Alberta’s system crashing Wednesday on its first day of operations and said Quebec hasn’t administered a single second dose of the vaccine thus far.
In a series of tweets, Dr. Isaach Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of the task force, said that primary care providers will help staff vaccination sites and will eventually be able to offer shots at their own clinics once additional vaccines are approved for use by Health Canada.
Several options on the horizon are more stable than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently available, Bogoch said. Approval of further vaccines could “significantly speed up” the rough timeline offered by Hillier.
Each public health unit will eventually be expected to give out up to 10,000 doses per day, though some larger health units should be doing considerably more, Bogoch said. For example, Toronto Public Health expects to have capacity for up to 400,000 shots per week, with most administered at nine mass vaccination sites, he added.
As of Feb.14, all residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes — generally defined as those that provide memory care — who wanted a vaccine had been given their first shot.
So far the province has administered a total of 602,848 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 251,590 people have gotten both doses.
At a news conference Wednesday, Ford also announced Ontario will spend $115 million to provide tuition-free training to 6,000 prospective personal support workers. The programs, which are set to be up and running in April, will consist of paid placements with students completing in six months, rather than eight.
The government will also provide approximately $2,000 in financial assistance to some 2,200 students already completing studies in the PSW fields.
Asked if the province will move to institute paid sick days for PSWs, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, didn’t answer directly.
1,054 new cases of COVID-19
The news comes as Ontario reported another 1,054 cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths of people with the illness Wednesday morning.
The additional cases include 363 in Toronto, 186 in Peel Region and 94 in York Region.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:
- Simcoe Muskoka: 53
- Windsor-Essex: 50
- Thunder Bay: 45
- Waterloo Region: 44
- Ottawa: 40
- Hamilton: 38
- Durham Region: 35
- Halton Region: 26
- Niagara Region: 13
- Middlesex-London: 10
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)
The Ministry of Education also reported 112 school-related cases: 89 students, 18 staff members and five people who were not identified. As of yesterday, 16 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools were closed due to COVID-19.
Ontario’s lab network completed 54,852 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.4 per cent.
The seven-day average of new daily cases rose to 1,084. A steep drop in the seven-day average that began on Jan. 12 has levelled out.
According to the Ministry of Health, there were 675 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 as of yesterday. Of those, 287 were being treated in intensive care and 182 needed a ventilator.
Coronavirus updates from Canada and around the world – CBC.ca
Coronavirus vaccine makers told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to expect a big jump in the delivery of doses over the coming month, and the companies insist they will be able to provide enough for most Americans to get inoculated by summer.
For the latest news on what’s happening with COVID-19 on Feb. 24, 2021, click here.
Bank of Canada warns buyers of 'early signs' of overheating in housing market – CBC.ca
Despite early signs of overheating in Canada’s housing market, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem so far has no plans to raise interest rates until the economy and employment are back on track following the slump caused by COVID-19.
Speaking remotely to the combined Calgary and Edmonton chambers of commerce on Tuesday, Canada’s top central banker said that the economy would continue to need monetary stimulus, likely until 2023, even though there are already signs it could be distorting the residential real estate market.
“In that low-for-long world, there are risks that housing could get carried away, so that is something we will be looking at very carefully,” Macklem said in response to a question from a member of the remote audience.
Some observers have already expressed worries that the Canadian housing market is rising at an unsustainable pace, leaving critics — including some in the real estate industry — nervous of a boom, followed by a devastating bust once interest rates finally start to rise.
Women and youth hardest hit
But while Macklem also expressed concern, he said that even though the bank predicts the economy will begin to surge by the end of this year, high unemployment among Canada’s most vulnerable groups means the economy will continue to need a helping hand.
“Because women and youth hold so many of the jobs in the hardest-hit sectors, they have borne a disproportionate share of the job losses,” Macklem told his audience, and he said that many of the jobs that have disappeared will not come back.
Already, long-term unemployment — measured as people who want to work but have not found a job in more than 26 weeks — is currently holding at more than half a million people, a level not seen in the economy in 30 years. Macklem said failure to get those people into jobs will lead to what he called “labour market scarring.” In other words, it would result in permanent damage to the Canadian workforce.
He suggested that while the bank is holding rates at rock-bottom levels, in return employers in his audience need to contribute by helping to train the types of employees they needed. That applied especially in the digital economy.
WATCH | COVID-19’s unequal economic recession in Canada:
Low-wage jobs were hit the hardest. Not only did technology-related employment not fall as far, but the demand for tech workers has bounced back to levels higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. And he said that employers must help create their own workforce in an economy that is increasingly digital and automated.
“Technology is no longer a sector,” Macklem said. “It’s every sector.”
But he said that rebuilding the workforce and the economy in that new form will be a process of months and years, and he reiterated that there is little fear of inflation and thus rate hikes because there remains plenty of slack in the economy.
Beware ‘extrapolative expectations’
But just as low rates have led to increased borrowing by businesses that has helped spur expansion and share prices, low mortgage rates have made it easier for prospective homeowners to bid up the price of houses.
So far, Macklem said, the move toward bigger houses further away from city centres has not been speculation so much as the need for more working — and learning — space for employees who no longer have to commute to the office. Part of the evidence for that is that larger, more distant homes are rising in value, whereas inner-city properties are attracting fewer buyers and renters.
But there are signs that the practical motivation for rising prices may be changing to the kind of speculative frenzy seen in 2016 and 2017 that the government tried to quell with tax measures and stress tests some of which were relaxed last year.
“What we get worried about is when we start to see extrapolative expectations, when we start to see people expecting the kind of unsustainable price rises we’ve seen recently go on indefinitely, and they’re basing their decision on those kinds of assumptions,” he warned.
And while he did not describe what kind of actions he would take to stimulate jobs without overstimulating housing, Macklem said the bank would keep a close eye on the housing market and think about how to contain a housing bubble that could lead to future trouble.
“When we see people starting to buy houses solely because they think prices are going to go up, that is a warning sign for us,” he told the audience. “We are starting to see some early signs of excess exuberance.”
Follow Don Pittis on Twitter: @don_pittis
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