Expect further COVID-19 holiday travel measures to come, say experts

WatchA strong warning to Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel, as the government tries to control the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Canadians should stay home.

That’s the message from the federal government ahead of the holiday season.

“To those who are planning to travel, I say very clearly, now is not the time to travel,” said Canada’s Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos.

A strong warning to Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel, as the government tries to control the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“The omicron situation is very dire, globally and in Canada,” assessed Kelley Lee, an SFU professor and lead of the Pandemics & Borders Project.

Wednesday afternoon Canada put back into place a global non-essential travel advisory over concerns Canadians could get trapped by additional international travel bans still to come.

“The government has warned you might be stuck, you might be subject to more testing and quarantine when you come back, and most importantly, you might get infected with this variant and bring it back and infect others,” said Lee.

Now that COVID-19 is again a globally identified risk for Canadians, unless otherwise stated, the advisory makes travel insurance void if you contract COVID-19.

“If you travelled and you tripped on the curb and broke your leg you would be covered for that, but anything to do with COVID, you wouldn’t be covered for that,” said travel agent, Cathy Larsen with Departures Travel in Sidney.

That means hospitalization or having to quarantine in a hotel would be out of pocket.

Last week, the federal government announced it would make incoming travellers from non-U.S. foreign destinations get a COVID-19 test when they arrive in Canada, in addition to the pre-departure molecular test that all travellers must undergo before leaving for Canada.

So far, that same testing program doesn’t apply to people coming from the United States.

“When we feel we need to change our policies, we’ll announce it as quickly as possible. For now, we’re monitoring it,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.

As for the hotel quarantine program — an earlier initiative that forced returning international air passengers into hotels while they waited for their post-arrival test results — Duclos said “all options are on the table.”

With tens of thousands of Canadians planning trips abroad over the coming weeks, the new advisory could wreak havoc on vacation plans and has West Jet slamming the government’s advisory.

“As the only fully-vaccinated air travel sector in the world, WestJet is calling on the government to publicly share the travel-related COVID-19 data that has been used to re-impose the advisory and advice targeted towards fully-vaccinated Canadians and the travel and tourism industry,” said Harry Taylor, WestJet President and CEO in a statement to media.

On Vancouver Island, representatives from the Victoria International Airport remain hopeful that the local high vaccination rate will result in fewer cancellations than previously.

“When there are recommendations by the government about travel, we’ve seen an almost immediate impact in terms of people not travelling, however, I’m not sure this going to be the same this time around,” said Rod Huchniak, Victoria International Airport.

Meanwhile, pandemic and border experts believe this advisory is just the beginning.

“I expect more measures will come into play in the next while, some restrictions on foreign nationals coming into Canada,” said Lee. There might be some domestic restrictions to come. We’ll have to wait and see.”

For now, international travel remains a personal decision — but the federal government giving every indication, that could change.

With files from CBC.

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Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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