Aviation measures in response to COVID-19

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Background

On March 13, 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada advised Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada because of the worldwide pandemic and the rapidly evolving situation globally; and to self- isolate for 14 days upon returning to Canada.

New health checks for passengers boarding international and transborder flights were introduced on March 19, 2020. Air carriers with flights coming into Canada are required to do a basic health assessment of all air travellers before they boarded a flight. This includes the operator asking simple health questions, and looking for visible signs of illness prior to boarding. In the event a traveller presents COVID-19 symptoms, the air carrier is required to refuse to board the passenger for travel for a period of 14 days and a demonstration that the traveller is non-symptomatic, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms the patient does not carry the virus.

Effective March 25, 2020 the Minister of Health made this self-isolation mandatory for all returning travellers to Canada, with certain exemptions including:

  • healthy workers in the trade and transportation sector who are important for the movement of goods and people across the border, such as truck drivers and crew on any plane, train or marine vessel crossing the border; or
  • healthy people who have to cross the border to go to work, including health care providers and critical infrastructure workers

Effective March 30, 2020, the Government of Canada started applying measures, including the health checks, to the domestic transportation system, similar to those already in place for transborder and international inbound flights. This means that passengers showing signs of COVID-19 will be denied boarding on all domestic and international outbound flights, as well as on intercity passenger rail.

The Government of Canada is working with provincial and territorial partners to coordinate important efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, by putting in place measures to support provincial, territorial and local efforts to restrict COVID-19 risk from travel within Canada.

Consolidation of international inbound flights to four major hubs only

On March 18, 2020, the Government instructed airlines to redirect international passenger flights to four Canadian airports – Toronto Pearson International Airport, Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Calgary International Airport.

Domestic flights, as well as flights from the United States, sun destinations such as Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, as well as from St. Pierre-et-Miquelon, are not affected by this measure and can continue to operate on their regular routes and land at current Canadian destinations. The Government is working closely with the airline industry and airports to avoid unnecessarily disrupting operations and minimize inconveniencing travellers.

Given existing international flight patterns, the vast majority of international flights were already arriving at these four airports. In light of the new direction, both the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada are ensuring a sufficient increase in their resources at all four airports.

Banning entry of foreign nationals by air travel who have been outside the U.S. or Canada in the last 14 days

Under the Aeronautics Act, the Minister of Transport requires air carriers on flights to deny boarding to any passenger who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and certain foreign nationals.

For practical purposes, the denial of boarding applies to all foreign nationals, with some exceptions*, on flights to Canada.

The measures came into effect on Wednesday, March 18. They do not apply to:

  • a person who has been only in the United States or Canada during the period of 14 days before the day on which they board;
  • an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or of a permanent resident, i.e. spouse/common-law partner, child and/or a child of a child;
  • a person registered as an Indian under the Indian Act;
  • a person who is authorized in writing, by a consular officer of the Government of Canada to come to Canada for the purpose of reuniting immediate family members;
  • a crew member;
  • a person who is exempt from the requirement to obtain a temporary resident visa under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations and the immediate family members of that person;
  • a person who enters Canada at the invitation of the Minister of Health for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 coronavirus disease response;
  • a person who arrives by means of an aircraft operated by the Canadian Forces or the Department of National Defence;
  • a member of the Canadian forces or a visiting force and the immediate family of that member;
  • a protected person (a person who has been determined to be either (a) a Convention Refugee, due to a well-founded fear of persecution in his or her country of origin due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion or (b) a person in need of protection due to a risk of torture or risk to their life or to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment);
  • a French citizen who resides in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and has been only in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, the United States or Canada during the period of 14 days before the day on which they board;
  • a person or any person in a class of persons whom the Chief Public Health Officer determines does not pose a risk of significant harm to public health or will provide an essential service while in Canada;
  • a person whom the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration or the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness determines their presence is in the national interest; and
  • a person in transit through Canada to another country.

*For a full list of exceptions, please refer to COVID-19 Emergency Orders made under the Quarantine Act, and approved by the Governor in Council: 2020-0184 and 2020-185.

Restrictions on transborder travel by air from the U.S.

Further to the Prime Minister’s announcement on March 20, additional restrictions between Canada and the U.S. came into effect on March 21, 2020 for travel by air from the U.S.

In addition to a health check for COVID-19 symptomatic travellers, air carriers are required to notify foreign nationals travelling from the United States of the new border measures, including the restrictions on discretionary or non-essential travel. Passengers must be advised that, even if they are permitted to board the aircraft, they may be prohibited from entering Canada under any emergency order made pursuant to the Quarantine Act.

Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and certain foreign nationals travelling for essential purposes are able to enter Canada by air at this time. Discretionary or optional travel for recreation, or tourism is not allowed.

These measures work in conjunction with restrictions being imposed at the Canada-U.S. border for travel by land and sea. For more information, go to:

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html

Domestic flights within Canada and Outbound flights from Canada

For all domestic flights, the Government of Canada has applies measures that are similar to the international and cross-border requirements. These measures, which came into effect on March 30, 2020, include:

  • conducting health checks of all travellers before boarding based on guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada. The health check is the same one used for travellers boarding flights to Canada;
  • denial of boarding for symptomatic passengers, or passengers who have been refused boarding in the past 14 days due to a medical reason related to COVID-19 virus, or is the subject of a provincial or territorial or local public health order; and
  • notification to travellers that they may be subject of measures by the provincial or territorial government such as self-isolation requirements to limit the spread of COVID-19.

If a traveller has been denied boarding by an air carrier or train operator, it is because there are actively showing COVID-19 symptoms including either a fever and cough, or fever and difficulty breathing.

Regardless of how they arrived at the airport/train station, symptomatic travellers need to go immediately to their place of isolation using private transportation only, such as a personal vehicle. At all times, they should practise physical distancing by staying two arm lengths (or approximately two metres) from others, where possible, and follow proper hand and respiratory (i.e., sneezing/coughing) hygiene measures. Where available, people with COVID-19 symptoms should be given a mask to wear in public settings.

Travellers are strongly encouraged to take the Public Health Agency of Canada’s self-assessment test before setting out on their journey to the airport, so they can access information and services in their local area. The self-assessment test can be found at: https://ca.thrive.health/covid19/en

Pre-boarding identification requirements for domestic air travel

In response to managing the COVID-19 outbreak, certain provincial governments are suspending services considered non-essential. Due to the restrictions on the movement of Canadians and the voluntary isolations in the country, it is estimated that many Canadians will end up with invalid identification as they won’t be able to renew it before it expires.

The Government of Canada is temporarily allowing, for domestic flights only, air carriers to accept government-issued identification that has expired after March 1, 2020. This temporary exemption is in effect until June 30, 2020. Passengers will need to show one of these documents at the boarding gate:

  • one piece of photo identification issued by a Canadian federal, provincial or territorial government with their full name and date of birth or
  • two pieces of identification issued by a Canadian federal, provincial or territorial government. Both must have your name and at least one must have their full name and date of birth.

Examples of Canadian government-issued identification documents are available at: www.travel.gc.ca/air/identification-requirements.

Remember that the name on the passenger’s identification must match the name on their airline ticket and boarding pass.

Preventing symptomatic passengers from boarding a plane to Canada

Under the Aeronautics Act, the Minister of Transport requires air operators to deny boarding of a traveller who is symptomatic (regardless of citizenship status) and keep them from boarding an international flight to Canada, including a trans-border flight.

Air operators are required to do a health check for all air travellers before they board the flight based on guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada. This would include the operator asking health questions and looking for visible signs of a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing prior to boarding.

In the event the traveller presents COVID-19 symptoms, the air carrier is required to refuse to board the passenger for travel for a period of 14 days or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms the traveller’s symptoms are not related to COVID-19.

The measures came into effect on Thursday, March 19.

While working to protect Canadians from COVID-19, we must ensure our airlines continue to fly, and that supply chains remain open. As such, these measures do not apply to domestic flights or cargo flights.

Getting Canadians home

The Prime Minister announced on March 21 that the Government is working with Canadian airlines and foreign governments to provide access to commercial flights for Canadian travellers who want to return home.

The flights are only available to stranded travellers who are Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, or their immediate family members. In addition, only travellers who have no CODID-related symtoms are allowed to board, and all travellers are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Canada.

Canadian citizens, permanent residents and members of their immediate family holding a valid travel document will have priority to board these flights to Canada. Foreign nationals who have committed to working, studying or making Canada their home will also be permitted to board with valid travel documentation when these exemptions are implemented. Visit IRCC’s website to get updated information as it becomes available.

Flights have already brought Canadians home from Morocco, Peru, Spain and other locations. We are currently working with Air Canada and are engaged with other airlines as we assess global needs.

The Government of Canada is working with Canadian airlines to ensure that stranded Canadians are offered a reasonable commercial price for their return ticket home.

Canadians who are unable to pay, and who have no available sources of funds to return home, are encouraged to apply for an emergency repayable loan through the COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad. This program was created to help Canadians return home and to cover basic essential needs while they work towards their return.

All Canadians abroad are strongly encouraged to register with Global Affairs Canada. This will allow the Government of Canada to provide information to them as soon as it becomes available.

Canadians in need of emergency consular assistance from anywhere in the world can call the 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available) or email sos@international.gc.ca

Strengthening medical procedures in-flight and medical screening immediately upon landing, with enhanced cleaning and disinfection at airports

Transport Canada has been and continues to work with air carriers to strengthen current practices. If a traveller demonstrates COVID-related symptoms in-flight, air carriers will isolate the passenger quickly according to international standards, and flight crews will wear appropriate personal protective equipment. In addition, the flight crew would notify air traffic control of a passenger presenting COVID-19 symptoms.

Symptomatic passengers will be segregated immediately upon deplaning, so they do not mingle with other passengers in the arrivals area and customs hall.

Strengthened screening measures at airports include stronger and more visible messaging, health screening questions at kiosks, roving Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers checking on arriving passengers, and CBSA officers checking passengers upon departure from the customs hall to ensure delivery and reinforcement of public health messaging.

Airport operators have been asked to perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection of high-traffic areas and facilities, to contain the spread of COVID-19, consistent with Public Health Agency of Canada and international guidance.

Mandatory 14-day self-isolation for all travellers arriving in Canada, except for those who are essential to the movement of goods and people

Effective March 26, 2020, the Government of Canada put in place mandatory 14-day self-isolation for all persons entering Canada, even if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms. Many provinces and territories are also asking all travellers, with some exceptions for essential services, to undergo self-isolation to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.

The continued global movement of goods and people and the ongoing delivery of essential services will be important for Canada's response to COVID-19.

Exceptions

Consequently, an exception to the order to self-isolate for 14 days is being provided to workers who are essential to the movement of goods and people. For example, this exemption would apply to:

  • healthy workers in the trade and transportation sector who are important for the movement of goods and people across the border, such as truck drivers and crew on any plane, train or marine vessel crossing the border; or
  • healthy people who have to cross the border to go to work, including health care providers and critical infrastructure workers.

Workers in these sectors should:

  • practice social distancing (maintain a distance of 2 metres from others)
  • closely self-monitor; and
  • self-isolate and contact their local public health authority should they exhibit any symptoms.

It is recommended that employers in these sectors conduct active daily monitoring of their staff for COVID-19 symptoms (checking for cough, fever or shortness of breath). Guidance material for the air operators, their crew members, and the aviation industry has been prepared and is available at:

https://www.tc.gc.ca/en/initiatives/covid-19-measures-updates-guidance-tc.html#toc_1

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