New federal travel measures that exempt U.S. greeted with relief


Snowbirds won’t be affected by new testing requirement

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Travel agent Gena Ray breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday afternoon upon discovering the magnitude of new travel measures announced by Ottawa.

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“It wasn’t as bad as I feared,” Ray, who works for Direct Travel in Montreal, said by telephone. “They’re taking precautions, on a day-by-day basis, which is the right thing to do. This pandemic is here to stay until it’s globally under control.”

As Canada works to stop the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, health minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the federal government will start requiring people who fly in from all countries except the U.S. to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival — starting immediately. Ottawa is also expanding a ban on travellers from southern Africa to include Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria.

The arrival test requirement applies to all passengers, whether or not they have been vaccinated, Duclos said. Fully vaccinated travellers will be required to quarantine until they have received the results of their test, which will be paid for by the federal government.

Montreal restaurateur Ted Dranias was glad to hear that the U.S. is exempt from the new measures — so far. He’s flying to Florida Sunday from Plattsburgh, N.Y. to open a new Petros restaurant, which will be his fifth. He plans to be in the U.S. at least once a month over the coming months.

“This sounds good. I’m making a big investment with this new place in Fort Lauderdale, so I have to be down there on a regular basis,” he said. “I even booked my next flight out of Montreal. They’ve dropped the prices.”

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Canada has six confirmed Omicron cases so far, including four in Ontario, one in Quebec and another one in Alberta, Dr. Howard Njoo, the country’s deputy chief public health officer, told reporters Tuesday. Investigations are under way and could result in several more cases being confirmed.

There will most likely be community transmission in Canada at some point, Duclos said. Canadians should understand that travel measures “could change at any moment,” transport minister Omar Alghabra stressed.

Should the health situation worsen, Canada is preparing for a possible extension of the arrival test requirement to air and land travellers from the U.S., Duclos said. No decision has been made.

“We will be working with provinces and territories to see how that could be done,” Duclos said. “We don’t know if it would need to be done, or whether it could be done if the situation evolves and requires such a policy to be implemented.”

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Duclos was due to meet to his provincial counterparts Tuesday evening to discuss the situation and “prepare for other eventualities.”

Even so, the prospect of a further tightening of restrictions is unlikely to deter Canadian snowbirds from heading to the U.S., said Ray, who is planning to fly south herself in about two weeks.

“The snowbirds are all going,” she said of her clients. “People are tired. They’ve had it up to here. They want to live.”

After almost two years of pandemic restrictions, snowbirds are “desperate for sunshine,” added Richard Laberge, chief executive of Transport Laberge, which ships cars for Quebec customers to U.S. states such as Florida.

“Even if a requirement to get tested on arrival was put in place, I don’t think this would stop the snowbirds,” Laberge said. “Only if the government closed the border would there be a problem.”

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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