WHEN CAN WE TRAVEL?
Kenney pushes for a plan
COVID -19 travel restrictions such as border closures and quarantine requirements have been devastating for Alberta’s economy and cannot continue indefinitely, Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday.
Kenney told reporters that while it is not yet time to resume travel, he is pushing his provincial counterparts and the federal government to work together to come up with a plan that will allow for the resumption of international and domestic travel sooner rather than later.
“Goodness knows, we’re not going to get our economy back to full throttle — particularly with Alberta’s huge tourism industry — until we can safely travel again,” Kenney said. “We need to begin developing strategies to do that safely, and we should be looking at the experience of other jurisdictions that have very large tourism industries, like Iceland, Austria and New Zealand.”
Currently, an official global travel advisory warns Canadians against travel outside of the country. All Canadians returning from abroad, as well as all international travellers entering the country, are required by federal order to self-isolate for 14 days to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
The U.s.-canada border remains closed to all but essential travel, and Reuters reported Tuesday that the two countries are set to extend that border closure until the end of July.
In addition, a number of Canadian provinces have rules in place that essentially prohibit non-essential domestic travel. In Alberta, travel outside the province is still not recommended but there are no rules or enforcement stopping someone from heading to B.C. or Saskatchewan or vice versa.
Other provinces, however, are stricter — Manitoba, for example, requires all visitors from other provinces to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. Prince Edward Island remains closed to non-residents for the foreseeable future, while the government of Newfoundland has expanded the power of police to allow officers to detain and take people to the border if they’re not supposed to be in the province.
Entry into the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon is also restricted at this time.
Kenney said the issue of domestic travel restrictions has been raised “constantly” during weekly premiers’ meetings, as has the question of the federally mandated 14-day quarantine for incoming international travellers. He said other countries that are dependent on tourism have begun to loosen travel restrictions, finding other ways to prevent travel-related spread of the virus. Iceland, for example, is now offering COVID-19 tests to all incoming air travellers. Those who test negative are able to skip the previously required two-week quarantine.
“There are a lot of different ways of doing this, and we’re not ready to do it yet, for sure, but we can’t just suspend global air travel for the next year,” Kenney said. “That would continue to massively damage livelihoods and impact people’s lives.”
The Canadian travel and tourism industry has been calling for “clear direction” on the loosening of travel restrictions, ideally before the end of the summer season. In a letter to Kenney signed by more than 25 CEOS of hotels, airlines and tourism operators, the travel industry says that many Canadians are contemplating travel now that economies are beginning to reopen but are being met with mixed messaging.
“Provinces vary on whether to allow out-of-province visitors, on mandatory self-isolation for visitors, and other rules that are collectively resulting in a confused and reluctant public,” the letter reads. “There must be a way to streamline our approach and encourage safe travel.”
For the airline industry, the removal of the 14-day quarantine for international arrivals must be first priority, said Peter Cerda, regional vice-president with the International Air Transport Association, which represents 290 airlines around the world including Air Canada, Air Transat and Westjet.
“We as an industry are quite concerned about some of these governments, the Canadian government being one of them, that still have these quarantines in place,” Cerda said in an interview. “People are looking forward to getting out of their homes, out of their communities. But the last thing they want to do is go somewhere knowing they will have to self-isolate for 14 days at a time. That’s really going to deter people from getting on an airplane.”
Cerda said the aviation industry is ready to reopen with strict protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus — everything from enhanced sanitization procedures to mandatory mask-wearing and temperature checks. He said rapid testing, once it is available, should also be deployed at airports to give travellers peace of mind.
IATA estimates that revenues generated by airlines in the Canadian market will fall by $14.6 billion (43.2 per cent) in 2020 due to COVID-19, putting at risk nearly 250,000 Canadian jobs and $25.4 billion of Canada’s GDP. Cerda said if the industry is to recover from this massive hit, it must be able to capitalize on the short but lucrative summer travel season.
“The government needs to take down the impediments it is putting on the industry,” Cerda said. “If they don’t do this, the industry is going to be handcuffed, Canadians are not going to be able to travel freely, and you’re not going to have international tourists coming in who can help restart the economy of the country.”
Parked Westjet Boeing 737 aircraft fill an unused runway at the Calgary International Airport. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has kept people from travelling and decimated the airline industry, leading a call to ease restrictions before the summer tourist season is lost completely.