The confusing world of COVID-19 travel instructions
Published Thursday, December 31, 2020 12:28PM EST Last Updated Friday, January 1, 2021 1:14PM EST
MONTREAL -- “Let’s be clear: this is not the time for a vacation abroad.”
That’s what the Prime Minister said last week as premiers Legault and Ford were increasingly insistent that such activity had to stop.
Accustomed to travelling at this time of year, many Canadians seemed unwilling to pass up the opportunity to do so despite the pleas of certain politicians and public health officials.
Hence Trudeau airport authorities were reporting full flights to typical vacation destinations in the United States, Cuba, Mexico and elsewhere.
Some of these southbound travellers may have persuaded themselves and others that it made no difference whether they were inside or outside of Canada as they would follow the same safety measures.
But several media reports from a number of sunny ‘hot’ spots revealed that the local safety measures were not being respected by vacationers. Concerns were also expressed that upon their return to Canada many such vacationers were not respecting the 14-day quarantine rule which was probably the biggest disincentive for those who opted to travel.
In light of this, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé asked the federal government to immediately boost rapid testing capacity in Canadian airports and to require returning passengers to be tested before boarding a plane back home.
He also called for much stricter federal screening to ensure adherence to the mandatory quarantine. on Wednesday, CTV News reported that the federal government announced that all passengers on flights entering Canada would require a negative PCR test three days before their arrival (it is worth noting that the United States already has such a requirement for incoming passengers).
Those who chose the sunny vacation escapes cannot be completely blamed for doing so.
Until recently, government messaging in regards to such travel was at times ambiguous. It began with the persistent contradiction of closing access by land to the United States while making it relatively easy to get there by air.
That left many Canadians puzzled.
But the ambiguity didn’t stop there. When Premier Doug Ford criticized the government of Canada for not doing enough to protect Ontario from international travellers potentially transmitting COVID-19, federal deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said the biggest problem in Canada was not really the importation of cases of COVID-19, rather it was domestic community transmission.
Canadian government travel advisories called upon us to “avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice” but they qualified the warning by adding that “ if you choose to travel despite these advisories you may have difficulty obtaining essential products and services you may have limited access to timely and appropriate health care; you may suddenly face strict movement restrictions and quarantines at designated facilities and at your own cost; your insurance may not cover your travel or medical expenses; we may have limited capacity to offer you consular services.”
The airline companies were able to address the difficulties that travellers might encounter. They offered free COVID-19 insurance administered by reputable companies.
The airlines said that the insurance helped Canadians to travel “safely and securely” and it included such things as medical coverage after a COVID-19 positive test result in destination, emergency air transport to return you home and a combined $500 per person for: *return airfare* meals and accommodations in the event that the government of Canada tightened the travel rules.
To make things even more attractive to potential travellers, the airlines offered heavily discounted fares on flights and vacation packages.
Undoubtedly, these are very difficult times for the airline industry and for so many other sectors of the economy.
But that’s no justification.
There will certainly be a lot of unhappy people learning that they’ll need to take a COVID-19 test before returning home, and that once they arrive, their movements will be more closely scrutinized.
There is a fair bit of blame to go around for this situation. It’s best to put it behind us and as we begin 2021 collectively focus on the way out of this unparalleled crisis.
Making 2021 a happier new year begins with urging family members and friends to get vaccinated as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Hopefully, when enough Canadians are vaccinated we can safely take the vacations that many of us so badly need.
Jack Jedwab is President of the Association for Canadian Studies