Premier Doug Ford wants Ottawa to clamp down on exemptions for unvaccinated travellers
|Toronto Star 14 Oct 2021 at 09:10|
Premier Doug Ford is stepping up his campaign to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clamp down on exemptions for unvaccinated travellers, the Star has learned.
Ford is expected to use a Friday press conference to announce new “guidelines” for arrivals to Ontario.
“The double-vaccinated who have a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test are not the problem,” said a senior Progressive Conservative official, speaking confidentially in order to discuss forthcoming policy recommendations.
“There are just too many exemptions (to being vaccinated),” the Ford adviser said.
“We’re going to put out what we believe are the public health recommendations (Ottawa) should follow to keep us all safe,” the insider said.
Conceding that, because airports and borders are federally regulated, Ford’s calls could be largely seen as “symbolic,” the official stressed that the data is raising red flags.
There is growing concern that a significant amount of Ontario’s new daily COVID-19 cases can be traced to travellers who have not been vaccinated.
That is magnified because it comes against the backdrop of the government’s controversial plan to fire essential front-line workers who refuse to get vaccinated.
“This is a source of frustration we’ve had with the federal government,” the provincial insider said.
Indeed, there are loopholes in Ottawa’s restrictions.
“Fully vaccinated foreign nationals may be allowed to enter Canada for discretionary (tourism) travel,” reads the federal edict .
“Foreign nationals who don’t qualify as fully vaccinated will only be allowed to enter in specific circumstances,” it continues.
But “exempt travellers” do not necessarily have to quarantine when they arrive even if they have not had any shot.
“Under certain circumstances, you may be exempt from some requirements,” the federal rules state.
These include “frequent cross-border workers” employed in “critical infrastructure,” such as health, transportation, manufacturing, energy, food supply, water safety, and communication technologies.
More concerning to Queen’s Park is the lack of federal enforcement.
“There are strict requirements you must follow even if you are exempt from quarantine,” Ottawa’s rules state.
“You must: wear a mask at all times when in public spaces, maintain a list of all close contacts for your first 14 days in Canada, monitor yourself for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.”
That “honour system” is worrying to Ford’s government, which is to allow full indoor capacity at restaurants, bars, gyms, and other venues.
It has been three months since Ontario entered the current “step three” of reopening, which limits indoor attractions to half capacity.
Under the new pandemic plan, key health thresholds like intensive care unit capacity in hospitals, daily COVID-19 case counts, and vaccination rates will give businesses more certainty about whether they can remain open at full capacity — and enable the government to reinstate restrictions if need be.
“Our approach is going to continue to be cautious, cautious, cautious. What we want is to not overload the health-care system. The current indicators are that we won’t have to go back, but we have to be careful,” said the top Conservative.
“We’re going to give everybody clarity at the same time,” the source said, conceding the government erred in last Friday’s surprise “one-off” announcement that lifted capacity limits at major stadiums, concert venues and theatres.
Owners of restaurants, bars, and gyms — where proof of vaccination is also required — were furious at being excluded.
Chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore will face questions Thursday afternoon about next steps for reopening.
More than seven out of eight eligible Ontarians aged 12 and up have had one shot and five out of six are fully vaccinated.