TORONTO — While travel is ramping up exponentially within the U.S., the situation at the Canada-U.S. border is very different as government officials on both sides work to make restrictions against cross-border travel even tougher than they already are.
As restrictive as Canada’s travel measures already are – and even with the new inter-provincial restrictions now in effect in many parts of the country – the premiers of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. have asked the federal government to do even more.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Quebec Premier Francois Legault, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and B.C. Premier John Horgan have all signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to close the loophole at the Canada-U.S. border, and strengthen measures against inter-provincial travel.
Reports of travellers who aren’t essential workers re-entering Canada by flying to a U.S. border city, then crossing the land border, sometimes on foot, to avoid the 3-night hotel quarantine, have been ramping up. A CBC News analysis of stats from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) shows that some 20,000 have crossed the land border since Feb. 21.
While both land and air arrivals have to show proof of a negative 72-hour PCR test, only air arrivals must wait out the results of their on-arrival PCR test with the 3-night hotel quarantine, part of the 14-day quarantine that all arrivals, air and land, must complete.
Meanwhile Quebec, Ontario, B.C. and PEI are among the provinces that have also enacted interprovincial travel restrictions including, for Ontario, checkpoints at Ontario’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba.
INDIA, PAKISTAN FLIGHT BAN
Premier Legault told reporters in Quebec City yesterday that he and his counterparts across the country sent the letter to Trudeau amid concern about flights coming from regions where variants of concern are rampant, like India and Brazil.
Late yesterday afternoon Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Canada’s new flight ban from India and Pakistan that took effect last night. The ban will be in place for at least 30 days and applies to all passenger and commercial flights into Canada from India and Pakistan.
Asked about flights from Brazil, Minister Alghabra said there are currently no flights from Brazil. “But we will not hesitate to ban flights from other countries,” said Alghabra. “Border restrictions can change at any time. You can be stuck in another country,” he said.
Added Premier Legault yesterday: “Second, for people coming from the United States on the ground, we would like to see more measures, including quarantine, to make sure we prevent the increase in the number of people infected in Canada.”
CANADA LANDS ON U.S. ‘DO NOT TRAVEL’ LIST
While government officials here in Canada are determined to strengthen the border even more than it already is, the U.S. seems to agree, including Canada in its new ‘do not travel’ list.
Earlier this week the U.S. State Department urged Americans reconsider any international travel they may have planned and said it would issue specific warnings not to visit roughly 80% of the world’s countries due to risks from the coronavirus pandemic.
Canada is now on that list, at ‘Level 4’ or ‘do not travel’, not surprisingly as third wave COVID-19 numbers here climb. Previously Canada was listed at Level 3.
Other destinations also on the ‘do not travel’ list include U.S. travel favourites France, the UK, Germany and Mexico.
The advice issued by the department isn’t a formal global advisory. Instead, it says the State Department will start using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards as it prepares health and safety guidelines for individual countries. Because of those standards, about 80% of countries are classified as ‘Level 4’ or ‘do not travel.’
Travel is discouraged for the remaining 20%. The advisory says people with plans to visit those countries should reconsider before proceeding.
DOMESTIC TRAVEL A BOON FOR AMERICAN CARRIERS
Rapidly rising levels of domestic travel within the U.S. have been a boon for American carriers in the past couple of months.
More than half of all American adults have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Southwest Airlines, heavily invested in domestic travel and catering to the leisure market, is the first major U.S. airline to report a profit since the pandemic started, and airline executives say that the industry is on course to recover from a financial crisis caused by the pandemic.
Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said Thursday that his airline has seen steady improvement in U.S. leisure-travel sales since mid-February. He credited rising vaccinations and falling new cases of COVID-19.
“We believe the worst is now finally behind us,” he said.
Southwest reported net income of $116 million in the first quarter, although it would have lost $1 billion without federal aid to help cover labour costs.
American Airlines posted a $1.25 billion loss, but its CEO also sounded upbeat heading into the peak summer-travel season, when airlines usually earn most of their money. The airline is aggressively expanding its schedule for summer and recalling employees from leave.
“We are starting to see light at the end of this very dark tunnel,” said CEO Doug Parker.
About 1.4 million people are passing through U.S. airport checkpoints each day this month, double the number of air travellers in January. Low fares are spurring demand and leisure travel in the U.S. is already nearly back to pre-pandemic levels.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press