Border exemptions introduced for families, students and compassionate reasons; Ontario will ‘pause’ social bubbles

COVID-19 In Canada
COVID-19 In Canada

Canada introduces exemptions to border restrictions

Beginning on Oct. 8, certain extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, and people who want to come to Canada for compassionate reasons, will be able to enter the country.

Family members who qualify include:

  • Individuals in an exclusive dating relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident for at least one year, who have physically spent time with each other, and these individuals’ dependent children

  • Non-dependent children (adult children who do not meet the definition of a dependent child in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations)

  • Grandchildren, grandparents and siblings (including half and step siblings)

Pre-arrival approval is required, with more details on the application process set to be revealed next week, and each individual must be staying in Canada for more than 15 days.

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said individuals in an exclusive dating relationship must have been dating for a period of at least one year and are required submit a notarized declaration of their relationship status to relevant authorities.

Beginning on Oct. 20, international students who are studying at a designated learning institution, that has been approved by their provincial or territorial government as having a COVID-19 readiness plan, will also be able to enter Canada.

Mendicino stressed that travellers should not make any travel plans until they have received all the necessary pre-arrival authorizations.

Anyone coming into Canada needs to following all the public health measures in place, including the 14-day quarantine requirement.

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, said foreign nationals coming into Canada on compassionate grounds can apply for a “limited release” from the mandatory quarantine.

She explained these “very specific” situations include being with someone you love to say goodbye at the end of their life, or a funeral or end of life ceremony. This exemption will be allowed in coordination with provincial or territorial government and must be approved before arrival.

Hajdu stressed that the COVID-19 cases in Canada, at this point, are largely related to community transmission, not travel.

Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, specified that only about two per cent of cases in Canada are related to travel.

“That isn’t an argument for reducing our efforts at the border and rather, in fact, it’s evidence of the efficacy of the work that we have done, effectiveness of both the public health response…and the efforts of our border service officers,” he said.

“The robust travel restrictions we’ve put into place to protect the health and safety of Canadians remains in effect,” Mendocino stressed. “The pandemic is an ongoing threat and we need to continue to be cautious and restrictive about who can enter into Canada.”

“We recognize, however, that these restrictions shouldn’t keep loved ones apart.”

Canada ‘scaling up’ federal public health presence at border

Blair confirmed Friday that the federal government is “dramatically scaling up” public health presence at the Canadian border to cover 36 points of entry, which account for 90 per cent of all traffic into Canada during normal operations. The government will deploy 190 public health workers across the country by the end of the fiscal year.

He said there will be 24/7 access to quarantine officer support through the Central Notification System and digital portals, like the ArriveCAN app, are available for travellers to share information that can be transmitted to provinces and territories “quickly and securely.”

In terms of enforcing the quarantine rule, Blair confirmed that local law enforcement have “full authority” to issues fines related to any lack of adherence to the federal measure.

When asked if Canadians should expect additional border restrictions to be lifted by the end of the year, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness said the situation will continue to be “carefully” monitored.

“Until we can be assured, based on the advice that we receive from our public health officials…that we believe that those restrictions can be lifted safely, we will keep them in place,” Blair said. “We have to take these measures to keep people safe.”

Hajdu said that the federal government is “actively investigating” and supporting research around whether the submission of a negative COVID-19 test by travellers can be added to the existing requirements at the border, possibly impacting the 14-day quarantine requirement.

Ontario ‘pausing’ social bubbles

The Ontario government announced a number of additional restrictions on Friday, which include “pausing” social bubbles as of Oct. 3, ahead of Thanksgiving.

The new guidance specifies that the provincial government is “advising” Ontarians to “allow close contact only with people living in their own household and maintain two metres physical distancing from everyone else.”

It goes on to say that individuals living alone “may consider” having close contact with another household.

“We did the [bubbles] and people, in the end of the summer into September, just moved those way out beyond what they should have done,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said at a press conference on Friday.

Dr. Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s chief coroner and executive lead of the COVID-19 Testing Approach, revealed that when a positive case has been detected, there have been “upwards of 25 contacts” that they have exposed themselves to.

“That’s a tremendous number, that’s way more than very careful…[interaction] with others,” Dr. Huyer said. “Everybody has to think carefully about where they’re going and what they’re doing, and assess the potential risk, assess the potential chance for transmission.”

The province also outlined a number of measures that will be implemented in “hot spots” Ottawa, Peel and Toronto specifically.

Capacity at restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other food and drink establishments is restricted to a maximum of 100 patrons, physically distanced, with no more than six people per table. Contact information for each patron must also be collected.

Only 50 people are allowed at banquet halls, and meeting and event facilities, also with a maximum of six people per table.

Group exercise classes at gyms and other fitness facilities are limited to 10 people, with a maximum capacity of 50 people total in these settings.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said these new restrictions are being put in place after the province received “a real wake up call” with the latest modelling data showing the Ontario could see 1,000 new cases a day by mid-October.

Appointment-based COVID-19 testing only

As of Oct. 6, COVID-19 tests at assessment centres will only be conducted by appointment. Beginning on Oct. 4, assessment centres will no longer be providing walk-in services.

Ford said this is a particularly important change to make as the cold weather approaches, stressing that people shouldn’t be waiting out in the cold, rain or snow for a COVID-19 test.

Matthew Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health, spoke about how this new rule will impact the province’s ability to catch up on the backlog of 90,000 COVID-19 test.

“We’re not able to distribute he load quite as efficiently as we could to ultimately get that test result back to people,” Anderson says.

He said this will allow people to be screened for eligibility before they arrive and people with symptoms, or vulnerable individuals, can be prioritized.

‘The momentum of the COVID-19 epidemic curve is the opposite of a rollercoaster’

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, warned the public at a press conference on Friday that as many areas continue to see high COVID-19 infection rates, local public health, health-care and laboratory services are “at risk of being overwhelmed” if the curve of the pandemic can’t be bent.

“The momentum of the COVID-19 epidemic curve is the opposite of a rollercoaster,” Dr. Tam said. “The way up is fast and easy, but the way down is long and slow.”

“Downward momentum can be stopped or even reversed with any wrong step we take.”

She asked all Canadians to “double down” on their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially as frontline and essential workers continue to provide care and services for Canadians despite their “COVID fatigue of the highest order.”

“This time we’ve got to bend it like Canadians,” Dr. Tam said. “We’ll need to give it the old double-double by layering personal risk assessment and prevention practices, and reconfiguring and downsizing our in-person contact bubbles.”

“It’s time to step up to the plate and get in the game.”

As many of the recent COVID-19 cases have been in younger Canadians, the chief public health officer highlighted that the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Entertainment Software Association of Canada are “joining forces” to reach millions of gamers with messaging on the public health measures in place.

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