The federal government is lifting COVID-19 border measures as of Saturday, including mandatory vaccine requirements, masking on planes and trains and the use of the ArriveCan app, as concern about the pandemic subsides.
Starting Oct. 1, any traveller entering Canada will no longer have to provide proof of vaccination, undergo COVID-19 testing, quarantine, or monitor and report symptoms of the virus if they develop. The government also said travellers will no longer have to undergo health checks for air and rail travel, or wear masks on planes or trains.
Travellers will no longer be required to use ArriveCan to enter the country, however government officials said the use of the app will be optional and available for passengers to submit their customs declaration in advance at major airports.
"We've always maintained that the extraordinary measures we introduced at our borders and on airplanes, trains and boats were temporary, and that we would adjust them as the situation changes," Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said at a press conference on Monday.
"Today, we're doing just that."
'Measures were not justified by science'
The travel industry has long been calling on the federal government to lift COVID-19 border restrictions, saying Canada was behind other nations around the world when it comes to easing travel rules. This summer saw Canada's major airports gripped by chaos amid a resurgence in travel demand that, combined with labour shortages and processing issues, led to a wave of cancellations and delays.
Air Canada welcomed the lifting of restrictions, with chief operating officer Craig Landry saying the removal of the travel rules acknowledges that "air travel is safe and that the measures were not justified by science."
"We believe it will greatly facilitate travel, help to continue stabilizing the country's air transport sector and support Canada's economy," Landry said in a statement, urging the government to "not lose momentum" and enact further reforms to streamline the air transport system in Canada.
"This includes improving processes, such as security and customs at airports, developing new trusted traveller programs, deploying new technologies and, more fundamentally, re-examining the user-pay model that finances air transportation in Canada, whose weaknesses and interdependencies were exposed by COVID," Landry said.
WestJet chief executive officer Alexis von Hoensbroech said in a statement on Monday that the company has been advocating for health and safety measures "that were grounded in science and data and were consistent with all consumer activities."
"Today's announcement aligns with the travel policies of other major nations, reflects our industry's outstanding commitment to safety, and recognizes that air travel is no less safer than any other consumer activity," von Hoensbroech said.
Jeff Morrison, the president of the National Airline Council of Canada (NACC), says lifting of the mask mandate will be especially beneficial for airline staff who have been facing growing abuse in recent months as they try to enforce masking rules. Morrison says there have been at least 3,200 incidents of abuse of airline staff since the start of the year at NACC airlines, which include Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Jazz Aviation.
"Because mask mandates have been lifted in virtually every other sector of the economy, it has led to a dramatic increase in the number of abuse incidents," Morrison said in an interview.
"We're hopeful that, with the restriction removed, those will significantly decrease."
Morrison also expects that the travel disruptions and long lineups seen at airports throughout the summer travel season will decrease with the lifting of restrictions as the process becomes more efficient.
Pressure for Ottawa to drop the COVID-19 border restrictions has ramped up in recent months, with politicians on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border calling on the government to lift the remaining travel rules.
New York Rep. Brian Higgins calls the government's decision "the right one" and says the U.S. should follow and lift its vaccine requirement on travellers entering the country.
"It has been two-and-a-half long years of border restrictions between the United States and Canada. The extended measures have kept loved ones apart and kept border communities from reaching full economic recovery," Higgins said in a statement.
"The end of restrictions is overdue."
However, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos at the press conference said that COVID-19 measures may be reintroduced if they are necessary to protect the safety of Canadians. Duclos says there are between 4,000 and 5,000 people hospitalized on a daily basis for COVID-19, and urged Canadians to get an additional dose of the vaccine if they haven't received one in the last six months.
"We have learned over the last (two-and-a-half years) the type of measures that can work," Duclos said.
"Obviously we have no hope to reintroduce some of these measures, but if we need to protect the safety of Canadians, we will."
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.