Canada: Measures to Address Coronavirus Pandemic

By Joe Godbold

Joe Godbold

Furthering our UK-Arctic Coronavirus Observatory, we are now compiling all of the relevant, up-to-date COVID-19 information pertaining to Canada’s measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, so you can have the information readily available to suit your need.

First published: 20 March 2020
Last updated: 19 January 2022


  • Federal Response (Travel): The Government of Canada has advised Canadians against all non-essential travel outside Canada. All travellers entering Canada, regardless of citizenship and vaccination status must be vaccinated, as of 30 November 2021. A valid Covid-19 test will only be accepted for travel under one of the following reasons: 
    • Travel from remote communities
    • Travel for essential medical services and treatment
    • If Canada is not your final destination
    • Emergency and urgent travel (including for medical reasons)
    • Other exceptional travel in the national interest
    • Medical; inability to be vaccinated
    • Sincere religious belief
  • Following arrival, all travellers must submit their quarantine plan to ArriveCAN, including the exception of fully vaccinated travellers, those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the last 180 days, and others on the list of exemptions (Canada quarantine exemptions). Afterwards, if you do not meet the requirements, you must quarantine for 14 days. The federal government has also introduced a COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad to assist Canadians return home or deal with other travel-related challenges. From 30 October 2021, to depart from Canadian airports or travel on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains, travellers will need to qualify as a fully vaccinated traveller. (See more here). Since the emergence of the Omicron variant, additional requirements, such as enhanced border restriction measures have been placed on certain countries from 30 November 2021, as well as a recommendation that all travellers, regardless of vaccination status, avoid non-essential travel (15 December 2021). This has included temporary border restrictions where fully vaccinated travellers who have been in any country other than Canada and in the US in the 14 days prior to arrival in Canada may be selected for arrival testing, with this number to reach 100% of vaccinated travellers in the coming weeks. Arrival testing will mean they must quarantine in a suitable place until they receive a negative test result. Effective 19 December 2021, foreign nationals who had previously visited 10 specific countries within the previous 14 days will no longer be denied entry into Canada, while from 21 December, it’s been reinstated that all short-trip travellers (less than 72 hours) must take a negative PCR (outside of Canada).
  • Federal Response (General): On March 18, 2020, the federal government announced a $765 billion COVID Economic Response Plan. The government has also made $600 billion in liquidity support accessible to help ensure that businesses could continue to access credit and to promote well-functioning provincial funding markets. The federal government has also committed $306 million in funding for Indigenous businesses struggling with the impacts of COVID-19. On 21 October 2021, the Canadian Government announced its budget, aiming to extend the wage subsidy, rent subsidy, Lockdown Support to 20 November 2021, along with 2 new programs – The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program – to the same date, with the intention to legislate the programs until 2 July 2022. Further propositions include establishing the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, and extending the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until 7 May 2022. (See here). See all of Canada’s economic response measures here. A business support legislation has been taken to parliament to implement the aforementioned measures, on 24 November 2021. Further welfare and social support in work has also been developed via legislation, including increased paid sick pay, protecting care workers, and all in aiming to finish the fight against Covid-19, 26 November 2021. See the latest federal economic response to coronavirus measures here. The projected GDP growth for 2021 is 4.6%.The 21 October 2021 announcement and subsequent amendments, for providing business and individual financial support, came into effect on 17 December 2021. Following Omicron’s destruction, the Canadian government has announced a wave of emergency benefits (22 December 2021), and further has expanded the eligibility for its Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, to help support Canadians and businesses in designated regions affected by lockdowns or qualifying capacity restrictions, 30 December 2021.
  • Aviation: Canadian North and Air Inuit have announced reduced services to Arctic communities. Air Canada is expected to lay off more than 5,100 crew members, amidst cuts to its planned flights by nearly 80%.
  • Federal Response (North/Territories): The federal government has provided more than $19 billion in funding to provinces and territories in Canada to help tackle COVID-19 as part of the Safe Restart Agreement. The northern-specific response to this crisis has been extensive: from restricting vessel traffic in the Canadian Arctic, including preventing any Canadian cruise ship from mooring, navigating, and transiting Canada’s Arctic Waters, to a recent commitment to provide $129.9 million in assistance to the territories during the pandemic. In April 2020 (see here), the federal government committed to:
    • $72.6 million for health and social services departments to prepare and respond to the crisis
      • $18.4 million for Yukon
      • $30.8 million for Nunavut
      • $23.4 million for NWT
    • $17.3 million for northern airline companies to ensure movement of essential goods such as food and medical supplies
      • $3.6 million for Yukon
      • $5 million for Nunavut
      • $8.7 million for NWT
    • $15 million in “non-repayable support” for businesses in the territories will be made available by the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor)
    • Additional $25 million for Nutrition North Canada to subsidise food and hygiene products in remote northern communities.
    • On 18 March, 2020, the Government of Canada announced that it would provide $305 million for a new distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund, to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.
    • As of 18 October 2021, the Canadian Government has approved a Request for Federal Assistance in providing surge capacity support to the NWT with infection and control (IPC), contact tracing, and COVID-19 testing efforts, in tandem with the Canadian Red Cross. (See here).
    • Budget 2021 commits (See here):
      • A portion of $99.9 million for seasonal pilot workers in Yukon, providing up to 5 additional weeks of EI regular benefits to seasonal claimants.
      • Renew the Territorial Health Investment Fund ($54 million over two years – $27 million to Nunavut, $12.8 million to Yukon, $14.2 million to NWT)
      • To support the short-term housing and infrastructure (2021-22) needs after Covid-19 deepened the recession in the North , with $25 million to Nunavut and $25 million to the NWT
    • The $1 million Yukon Covid-19 Recovery Research Programme, conducted jointly by the governments of Canada and Yukon, released its results detailing how to better understand the social, cultural, environmental, economic and health impacts of Covid-19 in Yukon, 21 December 2021.
  • Yukon Response:
    • Travel: If you’re arriving in the Yukon from within Canada, you do not need to self-isolate or show proof of vaccination. If you’re arriving in the Yukon from outside of Canada, you must follow federal rules for travelling to Canada.  The Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health has strongly recommended that Yukon citizens avoid all international non-essential travel, and has cautioned against domestic travel, 14 December 2021. Reflecting federal guidance, the recommendation to reduce contacts for a 3 or 5 day period following travel have been removed, instead recommending monitoring for symptoms and to self-isolate if sick, 11 January 2022.
    • Closures and Restrictions: Yukon has declared a state of emergency, 08 November 2021. Effective 30 November 2021, a proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required in order to access non-essential services and public events, as well as participating in recreational activities (however not including sport and recreation for U19 sports and recreation activities). All Government of Yukon employees and frontline healthcare workers will need to be vaccinated from 30 November 2021. (See here). As of 14 January 2022, additional public health measures have been introduced:
      • Mandatory masks (for those over the age of 5) in all indoor public settings and outdoor settings where social distancing can’t be maintained, and  inside schools (where high intensity physical activities for all are excluded)
      • Limiting all private and public gatherings to two households, up to a maximum of 10 people (including recreational team sports; group fitness; group recreation and leisure activities; and at bars and restaurants. 
      • Organised events: All postponed.
      • Bars/nightclubs/restaurants: 6 people seated per table, proof of vaccination), tables spaced 2 metres apart, no bar/counter service or eating; moving between tables; dancing, close at 10 PM.
      • Proof of vaccination required for personal services and 25 people or 50% capacity.
    • Vaccinations: Booster shots are now available for Yukoners aged 18+, 08 December 2021. Yukon’s government is now providing covid-19 rapid antigen tests for people with symptoms, 10 January 2022, due to the lack of testing capacity to use Lab based PCRs (06 January 2022).
    • Economic: On 28 September 2021, it was announced the Yukon Paid Sick Leave Rebate for employers and the self-employed would be relaunched for a third term, from 1 October 2021, to 30 September 2022. This provides up to 10 days’ wages for workers where covid-19 has made them sick, self-isolating or caring for other household members (see here). From 24 September 2021, Yukon’s Tourism Accommodation Sector Supplement (TASS), Tourism Non-Accommodation Sector Supplement (TNASS) and Great Yukon Summer Travel Rebate programmes extended until 31  March 2022. (See here).
  • NWT Response:
    • Travel: Travel restrictions build on federal guidelines and vary by residency and vaccination status;
    • Residents: NWT residents who have travelled to other parts of Canada and are fully vaccinated no longer need to self-isolate upon return to the NWT. Fully vaccinated individuals travelling into small NWT communities will require a day 1 entry test and a day 8 exit test (this requirement applies to all travellers regardless of resident status). Small communities are any NWT community that does not include the hub communities of Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, and Fort Smith, as well as Fort Simpson and Norman Wells. NWT residents who have travelled to other parts of Canada and are partially vaccinated need to submit a SIP (self-isolation plan) and can self-isolate for 8 days (they will need a negative day 8 exit test for release). NWT residents who have travelled to other parts of Canada and are unvaccinated should submit a SIP and can self-isolate for 10 days (they will need a negative day 10 exit test for release). GNWT employees returning from outside of the NWT will be required to WFH for 3 days after their arrival, 20 December 2021.
    • Non-residents: Leisure travel is not allowed at this time in the NWT, however, the following non-resident travellers may qualify for a travel exemption:
      • Travellers from Nunavut: Travellers applying for this exemption must have been in Nunavut or the NWT for at least the past 14 days. They will not qualify for an exemption if they have transited through another jurisdiction outside Nunavut or the NWT on their way to the NWT.
      • Booked remote tourism guests: Travellers applying for this exemption must have booked with an approved Remote Tourism Operator. Exempt tourists who have travelled to other parts of Canada (not applicable outside Canada) and are fully vaccinated no longer need to self-isolate upon return to the NWT. 
    • Closures and Restrictions: In NWT, up to 25 people can gather indoors in one space without an exemption, unless a current public health order stating otherwise is in effect, with 50 allowed outdoors (here). Such temporary restrictions are used to react to Covid outbreaks (see restrictions here). For example, the state of emergency in the City of Yellowknife has been extended until 19 January 2022. The Public Health Emergency for the NWT’s has been extended until 01 February 2022Emerging Wisely 2021 is the NWT’s strategy for safely resuming activities that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. To host a gathering of over 200 people or a high-risk activities, OCPHO approval is required and businesses/individuals must apply for an activity exemption. The Government of the NWT stated that it estimates all restrictions to be lifted by mid-late fall 2021. This would mean that there are no self-isolation requirements, travel restrictions or limits on capacity for activities indoors and outdoors.
    • Vaccinations: NWT will offer third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to immunocompromised people beginning 20 September 2021 (see here). As of 18 October 2021, the NWT government is introducing a COVID-19 at-home student screening pilot programme, to detect asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 amongst students and respond quickly to reduce risk (see here). The Government of the NWT  (GNWT) implemented amendments, on 01 December 2021, legislating that all GNWT employees need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (see here). 17 December 2021, a new public health order mandates changes to self-isolation requirements for travellers, of varied vaccination status and age. As of 16 December 2021, booster doses have been expanded to residents aged 16+.
    • Economic: As of 29 October 2021 additional funding for businesses – up to $12,500 of funding under the Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) programme for SMEs affected by recent public health measures, and will include funding for equipment, training and new technologies (see here). Additional funding for tourism businesses through the Tourism Restart Programme (one time grant of up to $18,000) to eligible tourism operators and businesses. (See here). The NWT government has announced a new Labour Market Recovery Wage Grant, as of 07 October 2021. Resultantly, eligible non-essential businesses impacted by public health restrictions on gathering sizes (since 01 August 2021) will receive funding of up to $2,000-$10,000 maximum per employee, after application. (See more here). 07 December 2021 the GNWT has waived tourism renewal fees for the third year in a row, in the wake of the global pandemic continuing to affect the tourism industry. The GNWT has approved $502 million Capital Estimates for critical infrastructure in the territory, to continue the recovery from Covid-19, 14 December 2021.
  • Nunavut Response:
    • Travel: In Nunavut, measures include fully vaccinated travellers requiring proof of vaccination or PVC (following federal guidelines), and an order for all unvaccinated/partially vaccinated travellers arriving in the territory must go into mandatory self-isolation for 14 days at a Government of Nunavut Isolation site in either Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife, with certain exemptions (individuals who breach isolation can be fined $575):
      • A common travel area applies to air and land travel and exempts travellers from isolation requirements. The Common Travel area between Nunavut and Nunavik  was suspended on 29 October 2021 while the Common Travel area with Churchill, Manitoba reopened, 15 November  2021).
      • As of 14 June 2021 fully vaccinated travellers can apply for an exemption to out-of-territory isolation.
      • From 1 November 2021, unvaccinated workers travel exemptions will be limited and will have to isolate at an isolation location for 14 days, with exemptions on 2 conditions:   
        1. If there is sudden and severe damage to critical infrastructure or if a replacement is necessary due to unforeseen illness or injury; or
        2. If the worker(s) is bearing a letter from a medical doctor indicating they are unable to get any of the Government of Canada approved COVID-19 vaccinations for a medical reason listed on the vaccine’s product monograph. (See here).
    • Closures and Restrictions: Nunavut extended the territory’s public health emergency until 20 January 2022. As of 17 January 2022, public health restrictions have been eased:
      • Outdoor gatherings: Max. 25 people.
      • Indoor public gatherings: 5 people plus household in dwellings/ 25 people or 25% capacity in buildings.
      • Indoor places of leisure (including gyms and fitness centres) are limited to 25 people or 25% of capacity, with restaurants and licensed establishments only open for takeout.
      • Personal services may open, parks and playgrounds open, buildings remain closed, group counselling sessions available up to 10 people.
      • Long-term care and elders’ facilities may have one visitor per resident, masks mandated.
    • Economic: The government of Nunavut has offered a series of economic packages, including $4 million in support for municipalities, a $4.5 million food support program to bolster Covid-19 isolation support,  a Small Business Support Program will be offering additional funding for small businesses, up to $5,000, to help out where affected adversely by the impacts of Covid-19, 13 January 2022. An additional $375,000 was provided for community radios to ensure their further operation, 18 January 2022.

Before Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut had recorded any cases, the Inuit Circumpolar Council had warned that indigenous communities across the North are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the virus, given many do not have running water or sewage systems. In a statement, the ICC said that, “Despite being the original inhabitants of some of the most affluent countries in the world, gaps in basic infrastructure continue to contribute to severe health risks.”[ii] Closing this ‘infrastructure gap’ was an area of discussion at a meeting of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee on 6 March, attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who himself has since entered self-isolation following the positive diagnosis of his wife) and President Natan Obed.[iii] It remains to be seen whether these circumstances will encourage such discussions to transform into action.

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Joe Godbold is a Global Leadership Fellow at Polar Research and Policy Initiative. He is part of the PRPI team behind the UK-Arctic Coronavirus Observatory, and serves as the lead for Canada and Antarctica.