Federal ministers announced stricter new rules for residents returning to Canada, while criticizing politicians who defied public health advice and took vacations abroad over the holidays.
Canadian politicians vacationing in the Caribbean are taking a risk, perhaps an “unacceptable risk,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
“The advice has been unequivocal. Now is not the time to be travelling. We all have to take the measures necessary to keep ourselves and our communities safe,” Blair said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Both politicians said they regret taking personal vacations in defiance of public health officials’ clear advice to avoid all non-essential travel and while their provinces struggle to get COVID-19 case numbers under control.
Saskatchewan Minister Joe Hargrave is in California to finalize the sale of his personal property, a trip he “deemed necessary,” he said in a statement. Premier Scott Moe said he was aware of the trip and expects Hargrave to follow public health orders and guidance when he returns.
Travellers entering Canada will only be let across the border if they tested negative for COVID-19 within three days of travel, announced Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc.
The federal government will release more details in the coming days.
“But if I’m on a beach in the Caribbean this week, and then have to scramble to find somewhere to get a test before I return, we have to look into that, said LeBlanc. “I would be trying to find a clinic or a place to get a COVID test before returning to Canada.”
By law, the federal government cannot stop Canadians from travelling, said LeBlanc. However, people arriving in Canada must quarantine for 14 days or face a maximum penalty of six months in jail and fine of up to $650,000.
Quarantine will be more stringently enforced with additional verifications and more border officials will be deployed at airports to reinforce travellers’ obligations when arriving in Canada, said Blair.
Watch: Border protections against COVID-19 are strong, Blair says. Story continues below.
Thanks to mandatory quarantines and a 90-per-cent drop in air travel this year, compared to last, only two per cent of all COVID-19 cases reported in Canada are linked to travel abroad.
However, a contagious new strain of the virus, first detected in South Africa, was brought to Canada by travellers from the U.K. this week, reinforcing the need for people to stay home. Canada is restricting travel from the U.K. in an effort to contain the spread.
“We share the frustrations of Canadians who’ve been making sacrifices for months now when they see images of a minority of Canadians, their friends and their family and community members who are not following the rules,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
“It is unfair to the millions of Canadians who put their lives on hold to protect each other.”
With a file from the Canadian Press.
UPDATE - 5:38 p.m. ET: This story has be updated to include information about Joe Hargrave’s trip to California.