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Ottawa announces COVID-19 rules for return of cruise ships to Canadian ports

Strict COVID-19 measures will be enforced when cruise ships return to Canada’s ports next month after a nearly two-year hiatus, federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced on Monday.

Ottawa lifted its pandemic-induced prohibition on cruise ships in Canadian waters on Nov. 1, on condition that operators fully comply with public health requirements.

“The industry will have to follow a robust protocol,” Alghabra told reporters in Halifax.

Under a framework developed with federal, local and provincial public health agencies, the United States government and the cruise industry, all cruise ship employees and passengers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be allowed into Canada, Alghabra said.

Passengers, he added, will need to take a COVID-19 molecular test within 72 hours before they board or take an antigen test within one day of boarding. They will also need a negative molecular test result within 72 hours before their return to Canada or an antigen test result within one day of their arrival, he said.

Cruise ship operators will be required to inspect proof of vaccination and monitor and report test results, Alghabra said, adding that no passenger will be allowed off a cruise ship unless they meet the testing and vaccine requirements.

The cruise ship industry is worth about $4 billion annually to the Canadian economy and is directly and indirectly responsible for about 30,000 jobs in the domestic tourism sector, the federal government says.

Allan Gray, president and CEO of the Port of Halifax, said Monday’s announcement gives a clear signal to ports and to tourism operators that ships are returning in a safe manner.

Gray said that while the revival of Canada’s cruise ship industry is certainly welcomed, the biggest economic benefit from the sector goes toward tourism operators in the cities in which passengers debark.

“Cruises in most cases (are) never a large revenue earner for a port … it’s about the economic benefit that goes into the community and it’s about the support industries,” he said.

Gray said he expects the 2022 season, which runs from April to November, will help re-establish an industry that is expected to rebound vigorously in the years to come. He said Halifax is scheduled to see 152 cruise ships this season.

“The uncertain part is the actual numbers (of passengers) on board,” Gray said. “It’s been varying up and down … so it’s difficult for us at this point to get firm numbers.”

Alghabra, meanwhile, announced $7 million in federal funding to help build a new $15-million marine container examination facility within the Port of Halifax. The remaining $8 million will come from the port, he said.

The aim is to reduce inspection turnaround times along with container congestion at the port, as well as truck traffic in downtown Halifax. Gray said plans are for the new facility to be in use by sometime next year.

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