Home Hotel industry Travel, tourism operators urge Ottawa to remove remaining travel measures

Travel, tourism operators urge Ottawa to remove remaining travel measures

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While an easing of COVID-19-related border restrictions goes in the right direction, remaining testing measures for fully vaccinated people are anchoring the country’s hospitality industry, travel and medical experts said Monday.

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The dropping of a requirement for PCR testing that came into effect on Monday does not go far enough and replacing it with rapid antigen testing remains a competitive challenge for Canada’s travel industry which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. , said Richard Bartrem, spokesman for the Calgary-based airline. WestJet.

“International travellers, when they travel again, will seek the path of least resistance and right now we are a path of resistance,” Bartrem told the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable at the International Airport. from Calgary.

“Travel has never been a significant vector of transmission, but this sector continues to be the only industry under test that continues to impact the recovery of this critical industry.”

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Canada’s approach is outdated as it is being left behind by a host of other countries that have abandoned these requirements, he added.

With COVID-19 infections already so widespread across Canada, it doesn’t make sense to continue testing fully vaccinated travelers upon arrival or return to the country, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla.

“We really don’t achieve much at the borders except to increase traveler inconvenience,” said Chagla, an associate professor at McMaster University.

Changes effective Monday include a return to the pre-Omicron random testing program for vaccinated passengers, a relaxation of the current rules which even completely oblige vaccinated and urged passengers to present a negative COVID-19 test before entering the country. People selected for random testing will not need to self-quarantine while awaiting results.

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Not vaccinated or partially vaccinated children of two fully vaccinated parents also won’t have to self-isolate before returning to school or daycare, he added.

The government is offering travelers the option of using rapid antigen tests instead of simple molecular PCR tests – but only if administered by a laboratory or healthcare provider. Those choosing the rapid test route must be tested the day before they begin their journey or arrive at a Canadian border crossing.

Unvaccinated foreign nationals remain prohibited from travel to Canada, with some exceptions.

Ottawa is also dropping its recommendation against non-essential travel.

While a higher level of border vigilance was needed earlier in the pandemic, the financial and emotional costs have been heavy and not even worth the relaxed screening regime anymore, Chagla said.

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“The yield of this type of test is very, very low for traveler anxiety…it’s probably not a cost-effective and reasonable process,” he said, adding that its price tag now exceeds $1 billion. of dollars.

While some medical experts say some level of entry testing is valuable for assessing the international prevalence of COVID-19 variants, Chagla said it can be done at the community level and by limiting border testing to travelers. symptomatic.

WestJet’s daily flight numbers are currently only half their pre-pandemic level, carrier spokesman Bartrem said.

The hospitality industry also remains precarious, with the number of international trips to Canada in 2021 down 87% from two years ago, said Leanne Shaw, general manager of Country Inn and Suites.

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“From what I hear from potential travelers, there are just too many barriers to traveling to Canada,” Shaw said, adding that their bookings have been reduced by 50% during the pandemic.

“Switching from a PCR to an antigen test has had no impact on bookings – people want security and predictability.”

Travel agents‘ livelihoods have been decimated by COVID-19 and federal pandemic financial support set to expire in the coming weeks must be renewed, Lesley Keyter said.

And the travel expert said one way to quickly put these agents on a firmer footing is to remove the rapid antigen test that saps the will to travel.

“Knowing that there is always a pre-entry requirement…the fear of returning home is just too much of a concern for Canadians,” Keyter said.

WestJet’s Bartrem said his industry is still pressing Ottawa for a quick and comprehensive relaxation of travel restrictions and hopes they will do so within a month.

The federal government has called the evolving measures “transitional” and subject to review.

This is a gradual process that puts science and evidence at the center of our decision-making,” federal Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault said earlier this month.

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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