Canada’s Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has announced that air travelers and passengers on interprovincial trains will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before travel. This upcoming requirement is part of their plan to assist in social and economic recovery.
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In a statement issued by the Ministry of Transport, MP Alghabra said:
“As soon as possible in the fall and no later than the end of October, the Government of Canada will require employees in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors to be vaccinated. The vaccination requirement will also extend to certain travellers. This includes all commercial air travellers, passengers on interprovincial trains, and passengers on large marine vessels with overnight accommodations, such as cruise ships.”
The move is not surprising given the spike in global infections as a result of the Delta variant. More and more countries have been pushing for vaccination, offering fully vaccinated travelers more flexibility versus those who are either partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. The guidelines would also require that respective flight crews be vaccinated as well.
There is no set date as to when this new policy will go into place, but MP Alghabra said that they are working as quickly as possible to develop a “measured and practical approach” regarding implementation of the requirement. The release also notes that all federal workers in Canada will be required to be vaccinated by the end of September.
“The Government of Canada today announced its intent to require vaccination as early as the end of September across the federal public service. Vaccinations are our best line of defence and for those few who are unable to be vaccinated, accommodation or alternative measures, such as testing and screening, may be determined in each situation, to protect broader public health by reducing the risk of COVID-19.”
The Ministry also re-iterated the need for vaccinations, stating that “less than 1% of COVID-19 cases have been among those who were fully protected by the vaccine.”
Both WestJet and Air Canada have reacted to the situation, echoing the sentiments expressed by the government, and will be working with the Ministry of Transport to determine how best to implement the upcoming requirements.
“We continue to be a strong partner in Canada’s vaccination rollout and are working diligently to implement the government’s policy on mandatory vaccines for airline employees,” said Mark Porter, WestJet Executive Vice-President, People and Culture. “Vaccinations are the most effective way to ensure the safety of our guests and employees, while curbing the spread of COVID-19.”
“We understand our people will have questions and will be discussing with our employee and labour groups in real-time,” continued Mr. Porter. “We are seeking additional detail from the federal government on the requirement and are committed to working together to ensure the successful implementation of the policy by late October.”
WestJet currently has an active workforce of approximately 6,000 WestJetters, while 4000 remain inactive or furloughed. Swoop currently has an active workforce of 340 employees, while more than 170 remain inactive or furloughed.
The WestJet Group will adhere to the requirement for domestic travellers to be fully-vaccinated or tested prior to departure. The airline group is advocating that rapid-antigen testing is an acceptable, accessible and affordable alternative for unvaccinated travellers.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Air Canada has advocated and continually adopted science-based measures to keep its customers and employees safe. This has included encouraging its employees to get vaccinated, setting up workplace clinics and supporting community vaccination programs to make vaccinations more widely accessible.
Although Air Canada awaits further details about today’s announcement on mandatory vaccinations, it is a welcome step forward in the evolving measures to protect the health and safety of airline employees, customers and all Canadians. Air Canada is committed to work with its unions and the Government of Canada to implement this new policy in an effective manner with the aim of increasing safety and streamlining the application of science-based health and safety measures in a manner consistent with the Government’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel report of May 5, 2021. In particular, for travellers, the panel recommended: that there should be no pre-departure testing for fully vaccinated travellers; acknowledging that testing at both departure and arrival is excessive for these passengers; and that effective self-administered rapid antigen tests now available can safely replace slower and more expensive PCR testing for pre-departure tests.
[Featured Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)]