The federal government announced their first phase of lifting international travel restrictions this week, with new guidelines that allow for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents and certain foreign nationals to avoid staying in mandated quarantine hotels and self-isolating for 14 days upon arrival.
The easing of travel restrictions go into effect July 5, at 11:59 p.m. EDT, along with new rules stating that unvaccinated children travelling with fully vaccinated parents won’t have to stay in a hotel, but will have to follow the testing requirements and depending on their age, isolate for 14 days after arrival in Canada.
Officials said in their Monday announcement that parents will be able to leave the house during their children’s isolation, and Minister of Health Patty Hadju said the new rules would “undoubtedly” be challenging for families who want to travel.
In a brief statement emailed to us, the Public Health Agency of Canada clarified that “individuals who are unable to receive the vaccine, due to eligibility (age) or other health reasons (medical history), can still be infected by COVID-19 and, therefore, still pose a risk of transmitting the virus and its variants to others. As a result, those who are currently unable to be fully vaccinated will be required to complete the day-eight test (if they are over five years of age) and full 14-day quarantine.”
Reaction to the announcement has been mixed, with some expressing frustration and anger regarding the rules around unvaccinated children travelling with their families.
Sean Gilfillan of Sturgeon County, Alta., told us that when he heard the news about Canada’s loosened travel restriction on Monday, he immediately booked a trip to New York for him and his wife in September – but without his kids.
“We would have 100 per cent probably booked something like Mexico, California, Disneyland, something like that, if we were confident that we could get the kids over and back without isolating,” he said.
Similarly, Mark Kay, his wife and kids of St. Albert, Alta., chose to book a trip to California in January, hoping that the rules for children will have been eased – telling us they were prepared to cancel if necessary.
“I understand the restrictions, it’s just disappointing,” Kay told us. “How do you sit a five and a 10-year-old inside and say, ‘You have to stay in here for eight more days because we went to San Diego?’”
“It is ridiculous,” said Toronto, Ont., teacher Emma Ryan in an interview with us on Wednesday. “This system does not make any sense to me. Yes, of course test kids with a swab, but if their parents do not have to isolate, neither should the kids. What are the parents supposed to do, leave their child at home?”
Ryan said she understands that the situation at the border is “fluid” but questioned “the common sense” aspect of the new restrictions.
Toronto lawyer Yael Bogler, who has two children under the age of four who cannot yet be vaccinated, said in a telephone interview with us on Wednesday that she felt “frustrated and a bit confused” by the announcement.
“Notwithstanding that we’re vaccinated, there’s no clear guidance yet on what we can and cannot do, and that includes something like travel,” she said. “I mean, you can travel but quarantining for two weeks is very challenging.”
Bogler said she understood that travelling “comes from a place of privilege,” but when it comes to family matters they “keep missing these major milestones in our respective families’ lives,” adding she has not met her new nephew except via FaceTime and her grandparents have been similarly unreachable overseas for a year and half.
For now, Bogler said she and her family plan to stay home, as quarantining two children for two weeks is “a huge barrier” for work and school.
“We’re all very excited about the vaccination status and how things are progressing in Canada, and the outlook is positive,” she continued. “But there’s a whole segment of the population that just won’t be vaccinated yet, the under 12s I’m referring to, and so our lives aren’t necessarily getting back to normal as quickly.”
VACCINES FOR CHILDREN UNDER 12 ON THE WAY
Both Pfizer and Moderna have begun clinical trials of their COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as six-months-old, with Pfizer expecting first results in July and full results in September, which heralds good news according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy.
“I would expect that if we have full data by early fall, September, October, it’s very conceivable that we may start having our kids vaccinated by the end of 2021,” Sharkawy said on us Wednesday. “So around December, I think it’s very likely that Health Canada will have approved these vaccines for children under the age of 12.”
Sharkawy explained that in the quest to make a vaccine safe for children, it comes down to dosage and schedule.
“Remember that the immune system in kids, particularly very young children, infants under the age of two, is quite different, for example, from those that are around 11, or 12,” he said. “So you want to find that sweet spot in terms of where the schedule makes the most sense…whether you’re going to go along with something that would be four weeks, then adults, maybe you’re going to go with eight weeks in younger children.”
Sharkawy also offered some words of encouragement for parents who may be hesitant about vaccinating their children against COVID-19.
“I do want to also point out very clearly for those people who are worried and say this is an experimental vaccine in children…I would submit this there has never, I say this again, there has never been a vaccine that has been approved and is in use for a disease that affects people of all ages, that has been deemed safe in adults and not in children,” he said.
“All three of my children are under the age of 12,” Sharkawy continued. “All three of them are going to be vaccinated.”