Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling on Ottawa to close borders to non-Canadian residents in an effort to stem the spread of new strains of COVID-19.
“Close down any travel coming into Canada outside residents of Canada or citizens of Canada. There’s no reason we need people coming in,” Ford said at a press conference on Monday.
“I can’t emphasize it enough – close down our borders and make sure anyone that’s coming in gets (mandatory testing).”
Ontario currently has a pilot program underway at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport that allows international travellers to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. Ford said Monday that the program, which is voluntary and free, has an average test positivity rate of 2.5 per cent.
“We need to tighten up the borders,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Monday the federal government is “actively considering tougher measures” given the emergence of new variants of COVID-19 that scientists believe to be more contagious. She pointed to Canada’s existing border measures, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine order for all international travellers, as an important measure in the fight against COVID-19. The government also introduced an interim order this month requiring all travellers coming to Canada to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72-hours of departure.
“Having said that, given the virulence of the virus in the world today, our government absolutely is looking seriously and carefully at measures to further guarantee the toughness of our border measures,” Freeland said.
One petition signed by various virologists, epidemiologists, doctors and public health officials warns that existing travel measures have not prevented the importation of new and potentially more contagious variants of COVID-19. The petition said that, in a number of cases, “their path into Canada remains unknown.”
Ford is the latest provincial leader to call for Ottawa to implement tougher measures at the Canadian border. Last week, Quebec Premier Francois Legault urged the federal government to ban non-essential flights to Canada over fears that travellers will bring new variants of COVID-19 back to the province.
Legault said last week that he was open to discussing what is classified as “essential”, but that flights to all-inclusive resorts do not belong on such a list.
"I feel like Quebecers are angry, I'm angry, to see that we're making an effort, and there are people who travel internationally for fun and who return here with the virus and clog our hospitals," he said.
The tougher border calls come as the airline industry continues to struggle in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. With traffic down by more than 90 per cent, Air Canada and WestJet have each slashed capacity and laid off more staff.
The National Airline Council of Canada, an industry group which represents Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Jazz Aviation, urged the government to consult with the sector before enacting measures to reduce travel.
“We want to work with government as a partner, as measures are being discussed, to assure effective implementation and avoid unintended consequences,” NACC president Mike McNaney said in a statement issued last week.
“The recently introduced pre-departure testing regime placed a great deal of strain on our industry as we sought to implement the new requirements in the span of one week, working with officials at a feverish pace to develop the necessary regulations and guidance material.”
Freeland reiterated on Monday that “the best measure of all is for people simply not to travel.”
“I can’t emphasize that too much,” she said. “Travelling is dangerous for you, it’s dangerous for your family and it’s dangerous for your community. Now is the time for all of us to stay home.”
With files from the Canadian Press
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.