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Canada Now that vaccines are rolling out, travellers and tourism industry looking forward to getting back to business

13:05  08 may  2021
13:05  08 may  2021 Source:   ottawacitizen.com

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Some year soon, ardent cruisers Tim and Cindy McKee hope to actually take their dream trip down the Danube River. The Eganville couple were supposed to have gone in March 2020, but the trip was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

a man standing in front of a large ship in the water: Tim and Cindy McKee are ardent cruisers. They've had three cancelled or rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are scheduled to begin a transatlantic cruise in December from South Africa. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen Tim and Cindy McKee are ardent cruisers. They've had three cancelled or rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are scheduled to begin a transatlantic cruise in December from South Africa.

The river cruise was rescheduled for July 2020, cancelled, booked for May 2021, cancelled, and is now rebooked again for May 2022.

A transatlantic cruise the McKees booked from Capetown, South Africa, to Rio de Janeiro for December 2020 was also scrubbed and rescheduled for December 2021.

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“Realistically, I give that about a 30 per cent chance of going ahead,” said McKee, a retired Postmedia media sales consultant. “Look at what’s happening in Brazil. And, of course, you have the South African variant too.”

a man standing next to a body of water:  Tim and Cindy McKee are hopeful that the cruise they had planned to take in March 2020 will finally happen in Mat 2022. Tim and Cindy McKee are hopeful that the cruise they had planned to take in March 2020 will finally happen in Mat 2022.

It’s been nearly 14 months since Global Affairs Canada issued a blanket “avoid non-essential travel” warning and perhaps no industry has been harder hit by the pandemic than travel and tourism. But as vaccinations ramp up, and other countries, like the United States and Britain, begin loosening their travel restrictions, there is some hope that the world might soon start moving again.

“The only word I can say is catastrophic,” says Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies. “The pandemic is a health crisis first and foremost, however the economic impact on the travel and tourism industry has been catastrophic.”

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The travel business has plummeted 95 per cent from 2019 levels, she said.

“Our industry has been without any real income for over a year now. It is an unbelievably dire situation. The good news is that there is light at the end of this very long tunnel, longer than any of us ever imagined it would be.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted that Canadians may be able to travel again as early as this summer, which is also when he hopes all Canadians who want to be vaccinated will have had their second dose. The government, he said, is in talks with other countries and will align its policy on whether it will require travellers to provide a vaccine certification with its international allies.

But it will be up to each country to determine what requirements are expected from incoming travellers.

Trudeau said Canada might require American visitors to prove they were vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering Canada regardless of whether the United States will require Canadians to do so. The Canada-U.S. border has been closed since March 21, 2020.

NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 6, 2021

  NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 6, 2021 Players in the protocol are: Colorado's Devan Dubnyk and Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov.Calgary – TBA (previously Josh Leivo)

There is a huge demand for travel among Canadians, Paradis said.

“The trip that Canadians are really desiring is to visit family and friends. There are grandparents who have never seen their new grandchildren. Siblings that haven’t seen each other in more than a year. That is the No. 1 pent up demand — for families to see each other again and celebrate.”

The travel agent association has been talking to the government every day about how to resume travel, but Paradis said what they want most is a roadmap for the restart.

“We’re not asking for a specific date. We’re asking for a plan and to know what are the measures that need to be in place.

“We can’t just flip on a switch overnight. It’s airports. It’s airplanes. It’s cruise ships. It’s resorts. … We need the infrastructure for the travel industry to operate effectively and safely.”

Last month, the EU said it would open its borders to travellers from the United States who have been fully vaccinated. The United Kingdom is using a colour-coded system with travellers from “red zone” countries subject to mandatory quarantine. All travellers to the U.K., even its own citizens, must present a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival.

NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 8, 2021

  NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 8, 2021 Players in the protocol are: Colorado's Devan Dubnyk and Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov.Calgary – TBA

 A near-empty departure area at the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier Airport. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen A near-empty departure area at the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier Airport.

“Our ask is, What is the plan?” Paradis said. “What measures need to be in place for us to open? Is it the number of Canadians that need to be vaccinated? Is it the number with their second vaccine? Is it the number of new COVID cases? Is it the positivity rate? Or is it the PCR tests?”

Global Affairs Canada says it’s still advising against travel outside the country.

“Travel Advice and Advisories are regularly updated after a thorough analysis and risk assessment to reflect the situation on the ground,” GAC spokesman Jason Kung said in an emailed response. “This includes information on travel restrictions which may impact Canadian travellers. Additional travel restrictions can be imposed suddenly. Airlines can suspend or reduce flights without notice. Travel plans may be severely disrupted, making it difficult to return home.

“The Government of Canada continues to take unprecedented action to protect the health and safety of Canadians by continuing to introduce measures to help prevent further introduction and transmission of COVID-19, and new variants of the virus into Canada.”

Dr. Doug Manuel, an epidemiologist and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who also sits on Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said travel should begin “low and slow.”

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“The travel industry is letting us dream and that’s great, but we’ve all been hearing the science and we have to factor that in as well. We all need to do our own due diligence,” Manuel said.

“I think summer is a little ambitious.”

Manuel points to the experience of Yellowknife, where 60 per cent of the population is double vaccinated, but is dealing with a serious outbreak that has closed schools and businesses. The virus arrived with a traveller, he said.

“Anything that comes into Yellowknife is travel-related because they had been COVID-free. That’s our cautionary note.”

The overall vaccination rate in Yellowknife might be 60 per cent, but the rates are highest among its oldest residents and lower among younger people, who are the ones who are travelling and spreading the infection, Manuel said.

a person standing in front of a truck:  Files: Paramedics transport a person from Roberta Place, a long term seniors care facility which was the site of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Barrie, Ontario,on January 18, 2021. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen Files: Paramedics transport a person from Roberta Place, a long term seniors care facility which was the site of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Barrie, Ontario,on January 18, 2021.

When people do start to travel again, it’s important that the infection rate is low so that any new outbreaks can be traced and contained, he said. Relaxing restrictions too soon can lead to outbreaks like occurred with the B.1.1.7 variant that has driven the third wave of COVID-19. It was one traveller from Britain who sparked a deadly outbreak at the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, he said.

“We blew it with B.1.1.7. We stopped travel to the U.K. then we opened it up, then we had Roberta Place. We don’t want to make the same mistake again.”

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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Emerging variants of the virus will also continue to pose a risk, he said.

“COVID is here with us and until we have world control, our risk of having new variants will continue. And the more we travel, the more they’re going to move around.”

It’s not getting on an aircraft that’s risky, he said: planes have excellent ventilation systems.

“It’s everything else. It’s the Uber ride to the airport. It’s the transit points. It’s talking to other people.” And someone who picks up COVID-19 during their travels won’t be detected by tests done immediately before departure or right after arrival, he said.

While they sit at home under lockdown, Canadians continue to dream and plan for travel. Paradis says many are booking expensive “bucket list” destinations, often for years down the road. But demand for such trips is high, and spots are filling quickly with Americans and Europeans.

Canada also risks being left behind when it comes to booking lucrative business travel and conventions, she warned.

“The longer that we don’t have a plan in place in Canada, the more detrimental that will be for our economy when it comes to travel revenues. For large conventions, they’re booking venues two or three years in advance. So those countries that already have plan in place, they’re the ones getting those bookings for 2022 and 2023. Canada, unfortunately, is off the map right now.”

Back in Eganville, Tim McKee continues to plan for future cruises, ready to jump at a good deal. Last week, his travel agent texted about one cruise line’s “secret deal” that promised only a 10-day itinerary and that air fare was included.

“By the time I called him back, it was all sold out,” McKee said. “It was the second ‘secret cruise’ deal they’d offered in two day. That’s nuts. People are eager to travel.”

NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 14, 2021 .
Players in the COVID protocol are: St. Louis' Jake Walman and Nathan Walker, and Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov.St.

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