New US-Canada restrictions will restrict medical travel

President Biden has imposed tough new travel restrictions that are seriously restricting travel inbound and outbound from the USA. With a small number of exceptions, which does not include medical tourism, travel between the USA and Canada is still banned and may stay that way for most of 2021. Medical tourism between the USA and Mexico could also come to a standstill.

President Biden is working with Canadian authorities to rectify a travel loophole, which currently exists related to cross-border travel between the two countries.

The loophole specifically refers to the access Canadians presently have in entering the US by air for non-essential travel. US and Canada land borders have been closed for non-essential travel since March of last year, however the closure does not correspond uniformly to air travel. Americans cannot access Canada by air for non-essential travel; the US did not restrict Canadians from entering the country via flights.

Canada has had a national quarantine mandate since March 2020 and the Canadian government and the country’s airlines have agreed to suspend all flights to and from Mexico and Caribbean countries until April 30, 2021.

However, despite government advice not to travel, some Canadians are booking travel to destinations such as Mexico by legally flying to the USA and then onward to Mexico. They do have to quarantine for 14 days on returning to Canada. The USA and Canada are discussing how to close the loophole for people who ignore official advice.

Anyone travelling into Canada through the land border with the USA must show a negative pre-departure PCR test no later than 72 hours before entry.

Other restrictions include forcing all international inbound passenger flights to land at Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, or Montreal; mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people arriving in or returning to Canada plus a mandatory three day quarantine at a government approved hotel at the traveller’s expense ($2,000 CAD minimum); and a further quarantine at home for those who test negative and a forced quarantine at the hotel if they test positive.

All inbound USA international air passengers have to get a negative PCR test within three days of their flight to the USA. At present this does not apply to land or sea travel or domestic air travel but the Government has warned that domestic air travel may have similar rules imposed by Executive Order.

The United States requires all international passengers to quarantine upon arrival including Americans returning home for 10 days, or seven days on a test and release basis. Some individual states also have travel bans and several have a 10-day or 14-day quarantine for intra-state travellers.

The USA has also imposed complete travel bans on selected countries. People cannot enter or transit the USA if they have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, China, or South Africa within the previous 14 days. US citizens and permanent residents of the USA are exempt. They will still be able to enter the USA, subject to normal entry requirements.

Although reports on the new rules only mention air travel, The Centres for Disease and Prevention warns that country lists and rules are updated weekly, and that while the testing and quarantine laws only refer to air travel, the official advice is that both apply to all travel, including sea and land, whether domestic or international.

Mexico is struggling with an out of control outbreak of the virus plus record numbers of deaths. The US and Mexican governments are discussing tighter border rules but Mexico stands out as one of the few open countries not requiring people entering the country to have negative PCR tests.

The USA would prefer new rules to be agreed with Mexico but hints that if this does not happen, they will unilaterally tighten rules and close loopholes. There is a strong possibility that medical tourism between the USA and Mexico could come to a standstill for many months of 2021.