Thousands of Canadians are thumbing their noses at government advice to stay home and hopping international flights to sunny destinations even as the COVID-19 crisis worsens in many parts of the country, CBC News has found.
Canadian air carriers operated more than 1,500 flights between Canada and 18 popular vacation destinations since Oct. 1, even as caseloads rise and the health crisis deepens.
It has prompted many questions from Canadians about why there is no outright travel ban, especially given recent high-profile resignations and firings involving politicians, doctors and civic leaders who’ve taken vacations outside the country
“With the new state of emergency and recent lockdown measures, why hasn’t the government considered restrictions for airline travel either international or even Canadian travel between provinces?” asked Brenda LacLaurin of Ottawa, who contacted CBC News.
“How are people still travelling for leisure?” asked another audience member. “Every official says it saves lives to stay home, yet people can get on a plane and fly to Florida? WHY is the airport not closed to outgoing travel?”
While international travel is permitted, the federal government has been advising Canadians for nearly a year to avoid all “non-essential travel” outside the country without offering a clear definition or tools for authorities to prevent it.
Mexico, Jamaica top the list
CBC News tracked Canadian non-stop flights to and from popular resort destinations using data from Flightradar24.com between Oct. 1, 2020, and Jan. 16, 2021.
Of the 1,516 flights analyzed, some of the most popular routes departing from Canada included 214 flights between Toronto and Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 183 flights between Montreal and Cancun, Mexico.
CBC excluded all known cancelled flights, as schedules continue to change.
WestJet announced last week it is scaling back operations, suspending several routes to sunny destinations, including flights from Edmonton and Vancouver to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, “as the airline continues to face volatile demand and instability.”
Air Canada says its overall network capacity — the number of seats it makes available for sale — is down 80 per cent compared with 2019. In an emailed statement, an airline spokesperson took exception to questions about the volume of flights resuming to vacation destinations.
“The real issue here is we need to restart travel safely in Canada as it is very important to the economy, with hundreds of thousands of jobs dependent on it both directly and indirectly,” said Air Canada’s Peter Fitzpatrick.
Flight tracking by CBC News shows that despite a dramatic drop last spring, air traffic from eight Canadian airports to Mexico and the Caribbean is on the rebound.
Raywat Deonandan, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, says the data suggests a small portion of the Canadian public is choosing to disregard public health advice, putting themselves and the countries they visit at risk.
“I try not to judge people. Everyone’s got their reasons,” he said. “Maybe they need, you know, some kind of stress relief.”
WATCH | Deonandan on the need to cut out travel:
However, he said, for that many people to be knowingly acting against public health advice, there is likely some selfishness at play.
“This sense that my need for recreation is greater than the need of the population to remain safe.”
Deonandan says banning travel could prompt backlash and civil disobedience, and would be a “hard sell” politically and economically, especially given an end to the pandemic is in sight with the introduction of vaccines.
But, he says, to prioritize public health, the government should have been much clearer and directed Canadians from the beginning on what does — and does not — constitute essential travel.
“I think a good rule of thumb is if the primary purpose of your travel is recreation, it should not be permitted,” he said, noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists Caribbean vacation destinations as Level 4, or very high risk for COVID-19.
‘No formal restriction’
The federal government asks Canadians to “avoid non-essential travel outside Canada,” but on its website says, “it is up to the individual to decide” what that includes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford acknowledged this week the lack of clarity on the matter is causing confusion as he laid out details of the province’s new stay-at-home rules.
“I know that essential means different things to different people. We have 15 million people in Ontario, each with their own individual circumstances,” Ford told a news conference on Tuesday.
CBC News also asked each province and territory how they define essential travel.
Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island did not respond.
“Vacation purposes — like going to a beach or ski resort, shopping and visiting family members where there is no extenuating circumstances at-hand,” the government’s statement says.
“There is no formal restriction prohibiting such travel or punitive measures in place at this time,” wrote a provincial spokesperson.
‘A steep gamble’
The Public Health Agency of Canada has flagged potential COVID-19 exposures on almost 500 international flights since Dec. 1, 2020. Of those, 87 flights were to or from the southern vacation destinations used in the CBC’s analysis.
While known cases in Canada linked to international travel represent only one per cent of the country’s overall case count, experts caution that still represents 4,239 exposures and contacts tied to a traveller.
Canada recently beefed up screening at airports and last week imposed a new requirement for all inbound travellers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Experts say those tests are not 100 per cent reliable and that people should not assume they can control their exposures abroad.
“You cannot control who is in the airplane with you. You can’t control the nature and the environment of the airport when you arrive. You can’t control the hygienic quality of the taxi that you take from the airport to your destination,” said Deonandan, who implored Canadians to think of the common good before travelling abroad.
“It is a steep, steep gamble that I don’t think is worth taking,” he said.
About the data
CBC News collected one year’s worth of data from Flightradar24.com for 169 routes between Canadian international airports and 18 destinations in popular vacation spots, mostly in Mexico and the Caribbean. Only direct, non-cancelled flights were examined. In all, 5,628 flights were analyzed, 3,042 inbound and 2,586 outbound. The data was collected on Jan. 9 and includes scheduled flights up to Jan. 16.
Although Flightradar24 is recognized as an authoritative source, there could be errors or omissions in the data, which isn’t guaranteed to be 100 per cent accurate.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca
Australia is seeking assurances from the European Union’s executive arm that future shipments of vaccines will not be blocked, after Italy banned a large export of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shots.
The shipment to Australia of more than a quarter-million doses was blocked from leaving the 27-nation bloc — the first use of an export control system instituted by the EU to make sure big pharma companies respect their EU contracts.
The ban was requested by Italian authorities and approved by the EU in a move that frustrated the Australian government.
“The world is in uncharted territory at present, it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News Australia on Friday. Birmingham acknowledged, however, that Australia received 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week, and “that will see our current distribution plan work.”
Australia’s immunization program began last month and the government expects the vaccine will be made available to anyone who wants it by October. The country has secured 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which will be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.
“We are obviously disappointed and frustrated by this decision,” Birmingham said. “It is very much a reminder of the desperation that exists in other parts of the world, compared with the very good position we found ourselves in here in Australia.”
According to Australian media, Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked the European Commission to review the Italian decision.
The shipment ban was the latest development in the dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca over delays in deliveries.
Faced with shortages of doses during the early stages of the vaccine campaign that started in late December in the bloc, the EU issued an export control system for COVID-19 vaccines in late January, forcing companies to respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved.
The EU has been specifically angry with AstraZeneca because it is delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised. Of the initial order for 80 million doses to the EU in the first quarter, the company will be struggling to deliver half that quantity.
The EU thought it had made excellent preparations for the rollout of vaccines. With its 450 million people, the EU has signed deals for six different vaccines. In total, it has ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and sealed agreements with other companies for more than 2 billion shots.
But only 33 million doses have been given so far, and only 11 million Europeans have been fully vaccinated. Despite the current difficulties, the EU’s goal remains to vaccinate 70 per cent of the adult population in the bloc by the end of summer.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | What is different about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine?:
As of 10:45 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 879,648 cases of COVID-19, with 29,974 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,173.
Canada has a deal to procure 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and an option for 28 million more.
Big news today. One shot vaccine. Uses a normal fridge. J&J has struggled to scale production. So unlikely to be immediate boost to supply. But every dose Canada gets fully vaccinates a person. No second shot required. <a href=”https://t.co/4bEMnFEpCB”>https://t.co/4bEMnFEpCB</a>
The update came as the Manitoba government announced that health officials in the province now believe that all eligible adults could have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, at the latest. The move comes a day after a similar announcement by the premier of Nova Scotia.
Ontario reported 1,250 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 22 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 643, with 280 people in intensive care.
The province will decide Friday what level of restrictions to place on three COVID-19 hot spots still under strict stay-at-home orders. The government extended those orders for Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay two weeks ago due to high virus case numbers..
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Friday.
Health offiicals in the other Atlantic provinces had not yet provided updates for the day, but on Thursday, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick each reported five new cases of COVID-19. In Prince Edward Island, health officials reported one additional case of COVID-19 on Thursday.
Quebec reported 707 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 20 additional deaths. Health officials said hospitalizations stood at 626, with 115 people in intensive care.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 51 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths on Thursday. In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 169 new cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and two additional deaths.
In Alberta, health officials reported 331 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 245, the province said, with 47 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
British Columbia reported 564 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths on Thursday. The province had 248 COVID-19 patients in hospital. with 63 in intensive care units.
Across the North, there were 10 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nunavut on Thursday, all in the community of Arviat. There were no news cases reported Thursday in Yukon or the Northwest Territories.
WATCH | How language and cultural classes have adapted to the pandemic:
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 10:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 115.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, with more than 65.3 million of the cases listed on the Johns Hopkins University tracking site as resolved. The global death toll stood at more than 2.5 million.
In the Americas, after two straight days of record COVID-19 deaths in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday told Brazilians to stop “whining” and move on, in his latest remarks attacking distancing measures and downplaying the gravity of the pandemic.
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll over the past year, after the United States. While the U.S. outbreak is ebbing, Brazil is facing its worst phase of the epidemic yet, pushing its hospital system to the brink of collapse.
“Enough fussing and whining. How much longer will the crying go on?” Bolsonaro told a crowd at an event. “How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution.”
The country’s health ministry registered 75,102 additional cases of coronavirus on Thursday, the most in a single day since July and the second-highest on record. Brazil also recorded 1,699 more fatalities from the respiratory illness, down slightly from the previous two days of record deaths.
Brazil’s surging second wave has triggered new restrictions in its capital, Brasilia, and its largest city, Sao Paulo. Tourist mecca Rio de Janeiro on Thursday announced a city-wide curfew and early closing time for restaurants.
Cuba has begun late-stage trials of its most advanced experimental COVID-19 vaccine, edging closer to a potential home-grown inoculation.
In Europe, France will extend COVID-19 weekend lockdowns to the region around the Channel coast town of Calais, following similar lockdowns around Nice and Dunkirk.
In the Middle East, Kuwait will impose a 5 p.m to 5 a.m. curfew and close parks from Sunday until April 8 in a bid to contain the coronavirus, the government’s spokesperson said on state TV.
In Africa, Kenya began vaccinating people on Friday against COVID-19 with AstraZeneca shots hoped to help revive the battered tourism-dependent economy of East Africa’s richest nation.
“This may mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” said Susan Mochache, a senior official at the health ministry.
Nairobi received over a million AstraZeneca doses on Wednesday, the first of 3.56 million shots via the global, vaccine-sharing COVAX facility. Top of the list are 400,000 health staff and other essential workers.
Kenya plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and another 9.6 million in the next phase, with more vaccines expected within weeks.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan’s regulators were asked on Friday to approve use of the COVID-19 vaccine of Moderna Inc., the third such vaccine in the nation that began its inoculation effort last month.
The filing was announced by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., which is handling domestic approval and imports of about 50 million doses of the Moderna shot. Takeda has previously said approval could be given in May.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine becomes 4th to receive Health Canada approval – CBC.ca
Health Canada has approved the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in Canada.
Health officials announced the approval at a media briefing today this morning in Ottawa.
The U.S. health-care giant’s vaccine is the fourth to be approved in Canada.
The approval is expected to provide a significant boost to Canada’s vaccine rollout. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is widely seen as one of the easiest to administer because it requires only one dose and can be stored for long periods of time at regular refrigerator temperatures.
Canada has ordered 10 million doses from Johnson & Johnson with options for up to 28 million more. Most of those shots are expected to arrive by the end of September.
Regulatory approval in this country follows similar approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday.
The FDA said Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine offers strong protection against serious illness, hospitalizations and death. One dose proved to be 85 per cent protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness in a global clinical trial spanning three continents.
More to come.
Why Canadians should elect their Governor General – CBC.ca
A scandal involving workplace harassment and verbal abuse at Rideau Hall triggered former Governor General Julie Payette’s resignation in January. But the bigger scandal is that governors general are unaccountable to the Canadian people, and this one will not go away when Payette’s successor is sworn in – or until the position is reformed to make it an elected office.
It is essential there be such public accountability, because the Governor General wields substantial power, both at home and abroad.
Right now, oversight of Canada’s de facto head of state comes largely from the prime minister.
This starts with the selection of someone to fill the role. While the Queen approves her viceregal, she does so on the prime minister’s advice.
And the prime minister is under no obligation to consult the Canadian public before offering it. In Payette’s case, this allowed Justin Trudeau to choose a candidate whose history of mistreating staff his office had failed to identify.
Once the decision is made and a new governor general installed, it also falls on the prime minister to hold this figure accountable for their day-to-day activities. Canadians have few ways of providing this oversight themselves, since access to information laws do not apply to the Governor General’s office. This means the goings-on at Rideau Hall are largely hidden from the public.
Canadians must therefore take it on trust that the prime minister will not only monitor the Governor General to learn of any abuses of their powers as they occur, but also intervene to stop them.
WATCH | Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns after scathing workplace review:
Giving Canadians a direct say in who occupies the country’s highest government position, along with the ability to monitor their conduct, won’t rule out the possibility of future scandals occurring. But it would bring heightened accountability to the Governor General’s office, and strengthen the demands on the person holding it to perform their role in a way that promotes the public’s interests.
This is necessary in a democratic nation, considering the Governor General’s powers and responsibilities.
Domestically, this figure summons and dissolves Parliament, grants Royal Assent to federal legislation, and ensures Canada is never without a prime minister able to command the House of Commons’ support.
They hold reserve powers, such as the ability to unilaterally dismiss a government and veto proposed laws, that allow the Governor General to safeguard democratic norms.
The Governor General is also one of Canada’s key diplomatic representatives on the international stage. Via state visits to other countries, events at home to welcome visiting dignitaries, and other official means, the viceregal supports and advances Canada’s foreign policy objectives.
The office is thus far from a merely ceremonial one. Indeed, an incompetent or ineffective governor general could do real damage to Canada’s constitutional order and global stature.
Which is why the whole country has a stake in who carries out the duties of governor general, as well as in how that person does so.
WATCH | Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says vetting process for Julie Payette’s replacement will be more robust:
Transitioning to an elected governor general would afford the electorate an opportunity to weigh in on both counts via regular votes. In order to secure re-election, governors general would need to ensure they are exercising their powers to Canadians’ satisfaction.
Occupying an elected post would also empower an incumbent governor general to act as a much-needed counterbalance to the prime minister’s power.
As an appointee under the current system, Canada’s unelected representative head of state cannot override the recommendations of its democratically elected head of government, except in the most unusual of situations, without contradicting Canadian democratic values. Constitutional convention therefore dictates that the Governor General will almost always defer to the prime minister’s advice.
A skilled prime minister can take advantage of this fact to manipulate the Governor General’s powers to advance their own agenda and undermine parliamentary opposition. In 2002, for example, then-prime minister Jean Chrétien asked the Governor General to prorogue parliament, avoiding the tabling of a report into the sponsorship scandal. In 2008 and again in 2009, then-prime minister Stephen Harper used the Governor General’s authority to prorogue Parliament and keep his minority government in power. Most recently, Prime Minister Trudeau requested Parliament be prorogued in August 2020 during the WE Charity controversy.
An elected viceregal, by contrast, would have an independent mandate from the Canadian people. This mandate would provide the Queen’s representative with a democratic basis for rejecting prime ministerial advice that does not reflect popular sentiment, advice that is particularly likely during periods of minority rule in the House of Commons.
In other words, by exercising greater oversight over their de facto head of state, Canadians would also be exercising greater oversight over their head of government.
And they would be doing it at the ballot box, which in a democratic society is where all of Canada’s leaders — including the Governor General — should be held to account.
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