Despite Trudeau’s call to avoid all non-essential travel, international flights remain popular in Canada
Non-essential flights to Mexico and the Caribbean will be suspended from Jan. 31 until April 30, Trudeau announced on Friday in response to the high volume of travel over the holiday season.
All passengers will now have to take a mandatory PCR COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada. They must self-quarantine for three days in a designated hotel before the test results are known—a procedure that may cost “more than $2,000” per traveller according to the prime minister.
Until May, only Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver airports will service international flights. Canadian airlines such as WestJet, Air Canada, Sunwing, and Air Transat have all agreed to suspend their vacation-bound flights to further limit non-essential travel in the coming months.
Since October, Canadian airlines have completed over 1,500 flights between Canada and tropical vacation destinations. Montreal’s Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Airport alone operated more than 180 flights to and from Cancun, Mexico, over the same period.
While Canadians are advised to avoid travelling outside the country for non-essential purposes, there is no official ban that would prevent one from doing so. Travellers are not breaking any law if they self-isolate for two weeks immediately after returning from their non-essential trip.
On Jan. 2, Canadian airports registered over 50 flights between sunny destinations including Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. That same day, Canada witnessed 10,209 new COVID-19 cases, an all-time high since the start of the pandemic.
As a result, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned potential travellers that more severe travel restrictions may come into effect in the near future, without advance notice. Canadians are expected to follow Trudeau’s advice regarding travel before the government is forced to take more extreme measures.
“Let me be very clear: Nobody should be taking a vacation abroad right now. If you’ve got one planned, cancel it – and don’t book a trip for spring break. We need to hang on and hold tight for the next few months, and get through to the spring in the best shape possible,” Trudeau tweeted on Friday.
As of Jan. 7, all passengers over the age of five who are flying into Canada must present a negative COVID-19 test to be allowed to board the flight. The negative result will only be considered valid if the test was taken within 72 hours before boarding the flight.
Gabriel Martinica, a second-year Computer Science student at Concordia University, returned to Canada on Jan. 11 for the winter term. The journey from his home country of Nicaragua included a layover at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where Martinica encountered a concerning situation.
“At the airport, I saw many people who weren’t wearing a mask or following social distancing. The restaurants were open, and the tables were positioned way too close together. It was a pretty scary experience since the airport was so crowded and travellers acted as if the pandemic didn’t exist in the U.S.,” said Martinica.
In fact, the United States currently has 9.8 million active COVID-19 cases, the highest number in the entire world. Moreover, the U.S. has over 75,000 total recorded cases per one million people, while its northern neighbour has around 21,000.
Martinica added, “I was happy to finally arrive in Montreal, because there is a noticeable difference. The immigration officer immediately checked for my COVID test, asked how I was planning to isolate myself and get groceries for two weeks, and he warned me about potential fines.”
Any traveller who does not self-isolate upon entering Canada may receive a fine of up to $750,000 and/or be imprisoned for six months. Two days into the quarantine period, Martinica received a phone call from the Canadian government, which was to make sure the self-isolation process was being thoroughly completed.
Canada seems to have more control over the pandemic and takes it more seriously,” the international student concluded.
Nevertheless, in the first nine days of 2021, over 30 international flights that landed in Toronto had a passenger who ended up contracting the coronavirus.
For many Canadians, including some highly-ranked politicians, travelling to the south is a way of temporarily escaping from reality and forgetting about the pandemic, which has already lasted an entire year. However, just one short getaway during these times can damage one’s career and reputation.
Linda Hasenfratz, a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, visited sunny Barbados in December. As the news spread to the general public earlier this month, Hasenfratz stepped down from her position and made a public apology, admitting that her winter break vacation was unacceptable.
Moreover, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips has also resigned from his post following a trip to the Caribbean island of St. Barts, also in December. Since the vacation took place during Ontario’s strict lockdown, Phillips later called his actions “a significant error in judgment—a dumb, dumb mistake.”
Despite being greatly discouraged by the Trudeau government, Canadians may still fly abroad with no legal repercussions as of Jan. 24. Deciding whether to go on a tropical vacation during this worrying period now comes down to every Canadian’s personal judgment.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam.