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Federal government to require vaccines for air, rail travellers

·3 min read

The federal government said Friday it will require air and train travellers, as well as public servants and workers in federally regulated industries, be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Friday that employees working in the federally regulated industries – including the air, rail and marine sectors – will be required to be vaccinated no later than the end of October.

"In addition, 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," Alghabra said, adding that those who are unable to get vaccinated will be offered alternative accommodations such as testing and COVID-19 screening. 

"Vaccine requirements in the transportation sector will help protect the safety of employees, their families, passengers, their communities and all Canadians." 

There are close to half a million people who work directly for the federal government, a Crown corporation, the military or the RCMP, and nearly a million more work in federally regulated industries, which include banks and airlines.

The move to require vaccinations of both airline employees and passengers has been welcomed by the Canadian airline industry. 

The National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), which represents Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Jazz Aviation, said in a statement released Friday that the group is reviewing the government's announcement "to fully understand the obligations placed on the sector."

"We remain committed to working with the federal government and our respective labour and employee groups as we proceed with implementation of the government's new mandatory vaccination policy for airline employees," NACC president Mike McNaney says, adding that the group is seeking further clarifications from Ottawa over the vaccine requirements for domestic travellers. 

"As these new policies are implemented, Canada's major carriers will maintain their ongoing support for vaccination campaigns, while continuing to invest heavily in the safe restart of travel and tourism in order to drive our national economic recovery in every region of the country."

Air Canada called the announcement "a welcome step forward in the evolving measures to protect the health and safety of airline employees, customers and all Canadians." 

"Air Canada also remains committed to the continued development and application of new safety measures and processes that are effective and convenient for customers as they become available," the company says in a statement. 

"Such measures are vital to the safe restart of the air transport industry which, apart from enabling Canadians to travel freely, is also an essential driver of economic activity in Canada."

WestJet Airlines says in a statement that it welcomed the announcement regarding mandatory vaccinations and said it will work diligently to implement the government policy. The Calgary-based airline has a workforce of about 6,000 employees, although 4,000 remain inactive or furloughed.

"We understand our people will have questions and will be discussing with our employee and labour groups in real-time,” WestJet executive vice-president of people and culture Mark Porter said in a statement.

"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."

The airline also says it will comply with "the requirement for domestic travellers to be fully vaccinated or tested prior to departure", and is pushing for rapid antigen testing to be considered an acceptable alternative for unvaccinated travellers.

Via Rail, a Crown corporation that will have to require its employees be fully vaccinated, says in a statement that it "will provide more information on our plan as soon as possible."

The move to mandate vaccinations for some sectors and activities is likely to be supported by the Canadian public. According to a new Yahoo/Maru poll, 77 per cent of Canadians are in favour of having an identification system that shows whether someone is fully vaccinated or not.

With files from the Canadian Press

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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