Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is open to stricter penalties for travellers who violate the mandatory quarantine period but will not introduce stricter quarantine measures for people crossing the U.S.-Canada land border as demanded by Ontario.
“We’re always looking at doing more enforcement, at stepping up on the penalties on that, and we’ll continue to work with the provinces on that,” Trudeau told reporters during a briefing in Ottawa on Friday.
“We know that importation through the borders is extremely low in terms of [COVID-19] cases in the country.”
But the federal government will acquiesce to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s demand to temporarily suspend the arrival of international students from overseas, Trudeau said.
“Because at this time Ontario is the only province requesting this, we’re happy to work more narrowly with them,” Trudeau said. “We’ll be reaching out to their officials today to formalize that request.”
In a letter sent to Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair and Minister of Health Patty Hadju on Thursday, the Ford government had also asked the federal government to implement a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine program for people travelling across the land border with the U.S.
“With several land border crossings between the United States and the Province of Ontario, this loophole represents a significant threat to the health and well-being of Ontarians due to the potential for further entry of COVID-19 variants into the province,” the letter, which was signed by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.
“In the past two weeks, over 150,000 people – not including essential commercial truckers – have crossed Canada’s land borders. This includes dozens of individuals who crossed between April 24, and April 26, 2021, after travelling from countries where direct flights to Canada are currently banned. This is not just an Ontario problem – it is a Canada-wide problem.”
Unlike travellers arriving in Canada on commercial flights, travellers crossing the land border are not required to book a three-day stay at a hotel to await their COVID-19 test results but are allowed to quarantine at home if they can prove that they have a plan for their 14-day quarantine period.
They must also present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival. These travellers are also required to undergo another COVID-19 test eight days after crossing the land border.
“There is a fundamental difference between someone arriving on connecting flights from anywhere around the world at our airports, which is why we have required government approved accommodations,” Trudeau said.
“The only people travelling across our border in any way right now are either permanent citizens are Canadians returning home, essential workers and limited number of exception cases that have squashed the number down to five per cent of what it used to be in previous years.”
The third wave of the pandemic is driven mainly by community transmission, Trudeau added.
Ford vowed not to “let this issue go because too much is at stake.”
“Last week, the new Indian variant was reported here in Ontario and it didn’t swim here. I can tell you that,” Ford said during his press conference.
“In fact, we learned yesterday that 90 per cent of average daily cases this week are variants of concern, the same variants that fuelled our devastating third wave. And they got in because of weak border measures.”