B.C. travel agents welcome prospect COVID-19 quarantines might ease

From Vancouver Sun – link to source story

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said relaxing quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers likely a first step in easing Canada’s border restrictions.

Derrick Penner  •  Jun 09, 2021

An Air Canada Airbus A320-200 airplane prepares to land at Vancouver's international airport in Richmond.
An Air Canada Airbus A320-200 airplane prepares to land at Vancouver’s international airport in Richmond. PHOTO BY BEN NELMS /REUTERS

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Word that Canada is working to ease COVID-19 quarantine rules for cross-border travellers was welcome news for Delta travel agent Trina Dang-Bordes, whose business has been mostly dormant for 14 months.

“My clients really can’t wait to get out there,” said Dang-Bordes, who is with Marlin Travel in Delta.

However, booking leisure travel for the summer would be premature.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced Wednesday that an easing of quarantine rules for Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada by air as early as July is a first step to the phased reopening of the border.

Citizens and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated at least 14 days before arrival will not be required to undergo a three-day hotel quarantine upon arrival, provided they test negative for COVID-19 72 hours before their trip and have a plan for self-quarantine at home while awaiting results of a mandatory COVID test on arrival.

Deng-Bordes said she started getting calls from clients after the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced B.C.’s four-step reopening plan. “Still,” said Deng-Bordes,” we are advising them not to book anytime soon. Maybe at the end of the year or 2022.”

“But I think that with fully vaccinated people, they should not have to stay in (a) hotel if they test negative,” Dang-Bordes said.

While vacation-starved Canadians might be anxious to get back in the air, travel agent Claire Newell is cautioning clients that Canada’s official advisory to avoid non-essential travel remains in place and Hajdu’s announcement is only an idea that isn’t yet in force.

“At this point, this news is really only for returning Canadian travellers,” Newell said, which primarily means those citizens and permanent residents who left for purposes that were deemed essential.

“But this is a real start and, of course, the next step will be for regular travellers,” Newell said.

Beginning to ease border restrictions with fully vaccinated Canadians is a reasonable start, said air-passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs.

“It creates additional incentive for people to get both their shots as soon as possible,” he said.

It is difficult to judge how big an impact such an easing would have because so few Canadians have had second doses of vaccines, Gabor said. Just nine per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, according to Canada’s tracking website.

Lukacs still has concerns about the unequal treatment of air passengers compared to travellers crossing the border by land, who did not face hotel quarantine requirements upon arrival.

“It’s really a matter of common sense that if you cross the border for your own personal purposes, well, you have to bear the full consequences,” Lukacs said.

Newell, whose agency, Travel Best Bets, has already been booking trips for the more distant future, began recalling staff in May when B.C. vaccination rates began to rise.

In the short term, however, there aren’t a lot of vacation options available until about November, Newell said because “the flights just aren’t there right now.”

North American airlines had 2,775 aircraft grounded and in storage as of April, according to industry analysts Cirium, which is almost one third of their fleets.

“So, we know (a return to travel) is coming, but all of these things take time,” Newell said.

Before booking now, Newell said travellers should be certain about flexibility on dates, cancellation policies and insurance.

Lukacs also believes air passengers burned by airlines that were reluctant to refund cancelled flights will have a long memory about that experience.

“What I anticipate as the most significant barrier to travel coming back to normal, insofar as Canadian airlines are concerned, and international travel, is the damage to the credibility and reputation of the Canadian travel industry as a whole,” Lukacs said.