Ottawa (CNN) — Canada is further restricting nonessential travel in and out of the country even as the government gradually eases Covid-19 restrictions. After weeks of lockdowns and containment measures, Canada is having some success in controlling the second wave of the virus but its borders will remain essentially closed for some time, government officials say.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that starting February 15, anyone arriving in Canada by land must show a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours before seeking entry to the country. Nonessential travelers that cross into Canada at a land border without a negative test could be fined up to 3,000 Canadian dollars ($2,362).
"You can't prevent someone who's standing at a land border crossing from entering Canada because technically they're already on Canadian soil when they're speaking to that customs officer," Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.
"That's why what we can do is in cases of no test to show apply a stiff penalty, a fine and demand and ensure a rapid and complete follow-up to make sure that they are getting tested, that they are being properly quarantined, that they are not putting at risk the safety of other Canadians by returning home without a clear, negative test," he said.
Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and essential travelers are currently allowed into Canada, although there have been some exceptions on compassionate grounds.
In late January, Canada announced that all air passengers will be required to show a negative PCR-based Covid-19 test before boarding a Canada-bound flight. A mandatory hotel quarantine for incoming travelers was put into effect, and flights on Canadian air carriers to the Caribbean and Mexico were suspended.
Concerns about variants led to travel restrictions
Canadian public health officials say while new daily cases of Covid-19 continue to fall and hospitalizations are down about 15% in the last week, new variants and a slow vaccine rollout could mean that a resurgence of the virus is still possible.
"I think we're all worried about the arrival of new variants and the impact that could have even as we are working hard to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible. There are real questions about what the impacts these variants will have both on spread of Covid-19 and on the impact of the vaccines," Trudeau said, adding that's why Canada is further restricting travel.
Canada has detected only a few hundred cases of new Covid-19 variants, but public health officials say already there is evidence of community spread in at least three provinces.
Most of Canada's provinces began gradually lifting Covid-19 restrictions in the past few weeks with many students returning to classes in person and the reopening of some nonessential businesses.
But public health officials remain concerned about the spread of Covid-19 variants and the pace of reopenings.
"The risk is very real," said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer.
"This is why we need to maintain the strictest vigilance in our public health measures and individual practices," she said. "This will help to prevent these variants from reaccelerating the epidemic and making it much more difficult to control."