For many travellers weary of pandemic restrictions, the Canadian skies just got a lot friendlier. Last week the federal government announced that it will be lifting COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates on planes and mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app, at the end of this month. Cue the cheers not just from a weary travelling public, but from the travel industry, which has been struggling to recover ever since the pandemic decimated it two and a half years ago.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified the decision based on science. “Every step of the way, we have taken decisions based on the best recommendations of experts, scientists, doctors, and the recommendation was that the border measures are no longer necessary right now.”
Other politicians take a different view. The federal Conservatives are claiming credit for the government’s decision to scrap the measures, which they have been demanding for months. This week, new party leader Pierre Poilievre lambasted the government for not acting immediately, as it was revealed that emergency crews coming from Maine to help Nova Scotia cope with post-tropical storm Fiona were stopped due to problems with their ArriveCAN apps. Meanwhile, four other Conservative MPs — Larry Brock, Melissa Lantsman, Rob Moore and Alex Ruff — signed an open letter to Justice Minister David Lametti calling on the government to end prosecutions and refund fines paid by Canadians who didn’t use ArriveCAN, and apologize for having required the glitchy app in the first place.
So was it politics or science that pushed the government to act? Like the virus itself, that science has evolved over the past two years. In some ways it is worse than we thought: a study published in July on 5.6 million US veterans found that COVID-19 is not like a cold that you can catch multiple times without long-term consequences; each bout of infection increases your chances of heart problems, fatigue, digestive and kidney disorders, diabetes and neurological problems. In other words, multiple infections don’t necessarily make you immune, but can make you sicker.
At the same time, it’s not clear how much difference the mandatory wearing of masks on airplanes and proof of vaccination will curb infection when most transmission is now domestic. Around the world, there is little consistency in approach. Australia is dropping its mask mandate on planes at the end of this month. Germany is extending its mask mandate until April 2023. Canada is dropping its requirement for proof of vaccination. The United States is maintaining it. And so on.