Rob Przybylski and Courtney Ross were slated to wrap up the month on a Costa Rican beach, sipping sugarcane cocktails with friends and family as they celebrated their wedding.
Instead, the Oshawa, Ont., duo say they and their 84 guests are out more than $216,000 after their Sunwing Airlines vacation package was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They have basically told us that refunds are not an option,” said Przybylski, 35.
Like most Canadian airlines, Sunwing does not reimburse passengers for flights cancelled by the airline, instead offering travel vouchers valid for two years.
The couple’s original booking in April had been called off by the carrier as the virus shut down global air travel. Their destination, a Planet Hollywood resort on the Pacific Ocean, offered a refund, but Sunwing did not, Przybylski said. So they rebooked the trip for Nov. 27.
Sunwing cancelled the second flight last month, he said.
“We have 80 people that are out money, and a lot of them aren’t working now,” including his fiancée for much of this year, Przybylski said.
“My mom is the perfect example. She hasn’t travelled in 30 years. What is she going to do with a credit?”
‘Bait and switch’
Despite minuscule travel demand, Canadian airlines continue to schedule tens of thousands of flights per month, only to cancel the vast majority of them several weeks before takeoff.
The approach can leave passengers with a drastically changed itinerary or no flight at all, giving them little choice but to accept vouchers they may never use.
Air Canada cut more than 27,000 flights, or 70 per cent, from its November schedule between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, according to figures from aviation data firm Cirium. It cut another 2,000 by the end of October.
WestJet, which recently began to offer refunds for cancelled flights, in contrast to its competitors, slashed its November schedule by about 12,400 flights, or 68 per cent, in one week last month. Air Transat scrapped 63 per cent of its flights for November in the same week, leaving it with 123 — down to 100 as of last week.
Comparable schedule cuts occurred in October and September.
“It’s called bait and switch,” said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University and head of its Global Aviation Leadership program.
The strategy is a response to a shift in customer behaviour, an attempt to woo wary travellers with ample flight options before drastically undersold seats prompt a scheduling cull.
“The industry cross their fingers and hope people buy, that they all of a sudden get this insane urge to fly,” Gradek said, calling the practice “deceptive.”
“‘Cynical’ is probably too light of a word,” he said. “It borders on the edge of misleading advertising, that you’re promoting and offering for sale stuff that you know there’s a high probability will not be what you’re actually offering to the customer.”
Carriers deny there is anything untoward about recent schedule gutting.
“Airline schedules have always been subject to change,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email, noting the company has had to cut capacity by more than 90 per cent since March.
“Overall, our schedule continues to operate as planned, and for any customers affected by changes we do provide advance notice and offer options.”
“We do our best to avoid cancelling flights at the last minute,” said Transat spokesperson Christophe Hennebelle.
Sunwing and WestJet did not respond immediately to questions.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau called the situation “complicated,” saying he sympathizes with customers.
“I encourage the airlines to repay passengers if they can. At the same time, some of those airlines are in deep difficulty in terms of their own ability to continue to function if they were having to provide refunds to all of the customers.”
Air Canada held on to more than $2.4 billion in advance ticket sales as of July 31, a hefty sum to return after its revenues dropped 95 per cent year over year in its second quarter.
Travellers have a right to reimbursement for a service that was paid for but never rendered, regardless of airlines’ financial woes, say opposition MPs and consumer advocates.
The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Quebecois have demanded refund requirements as a condition of any aid package to the industry.
Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Friday the government is “behaving like a branch of Air Canada.”
“The minister of transport for seven months, since the beginning of the crisis, has essentially shrugged his shoulders any time the need for passenger reimbursement has come up,” NDP transport critic Niki Ashton said in an interview.
The Canadian Transportation Agency said in March that airlines can issue travel credit instead of refunds for cancelled trips in the “current context,” though the agency later clarified that the online statement was “not a binding decision” and that reimbursements depend in part on the contract between airline and passenger.
European and U.S. authorities have demanded airlines reimburse travellers, on top of the strings attached to aid that range from limiting dividends and executive bonuses to cutting carbon emissions and carving out ownership stakes for government.
Back in Oshawa, far from the sands of a Costa Rican resort, Rob Przybylski took stock.
“I know I’m not the only one in this situation. The biggest thing for me is to get my money back for my guests.”
Top general to lead vaccine rollout, aims to immunize majority by September: PM – CTV News
Canada has tapped former NATO commander Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin to lead the national vaccine distribution effort, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced his target of immunizing more than half of all Canadians by September, 2021.
“Canadians can expect that if all goes well, to have more than half of us vaccinated by next September,” said the prime minister, adding this “significant positive news” comes straight from Canada’s federal health experts.
“I can understand the eagerness with which people want to know, ‘When is this going to be over? When are we going to get the vaccines?’ What we can say is, we are working extremely hard to deliver as quickly and as safely as possible… if all goes according to plan, we should be able to have the majority of Canadians vaccinated by next September,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also spoke more about the government’s vaccine strategy of procuring up to 414 million doses from seven different pharmaceutical companies — enough to vaccinate every person in this country more than a few times over. Because COVID-19 is a new disease and there are different approaches to tackling it, Canada wanted to keep its options open, he said.
“Some are going to work better than others, and some are going to be speed bumps along the way that cause extra challenges, and we knew that creating an array of opportunities for Canadians was one of the best ways of making sure that we would get through this the best possible way,” Trudeau said.
Asked what the biggest question on his mind is ahead of administering the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to a Canadian, Trudeau said it’s concerning safety.
“I think the question we all have is: is it going to be safe? Is it going to be effective? That’s what our scientists are looking at very, very carefully right now… There are jurisdictions and countries around the world that have banked everything on one or maybe two different vaccines… Whatever vaccines end up being the right ones to get through this pandemic, Canadians have a very good chance of having access to millions of doses of those,” Trudeau said.
Health Canada will need to evaluate each candidate before it can be administered to Canadians, and on Thursday that agency’s chief medical adviser said that the first COVID-19 vaccine approval could happen before Christmas, in line with expected approvals in the U.S. and Europe.
“We are expecting to make a final decision on the vaccines around the same time,” Dr. Supriya Sharma told reporters Thursday, during the first of what will be weekly public briefings on the status of procurement and rollout plans.
This means Canada could see first approvals in December, initial prioritized groups vaccinated between January and March, and expanding out to more Canadians over the following months.
“And then we’re going to have to figure out all of those shipments,” she said.
That’s when the military is expected to play a role.
TOP MILITARY GENERAL TAKES LEAD
As first reported by CTV News ahead of Trudeau’s Rideau Cottage address on Friday, Fortin will be in charge of overseeing what is set to be a massive logistics-heavy operation of delivering the vaccine.
Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilization effort Canada has seen since the Second World War.”
There are already Canadian Armed Forces military logistics teams working with the Public Health Agency of Canada on planning for the rollout of vaccines to millions of Canadians in the coming months. This work has quietly been underway for months but with positive vaccine trial news coming out in recent weeks, the country’s attention has been largely seized with assessing where Canada stands.
According to the military, there are currently 27 staff working out of the national public health agency, including operational planners, pharmacists, health-care administrators, engineers, and IT experts, with more expected to follow.
Known as the National Operations Centre, Fortin will head up the logistics and operations within the centre. He is being named Vice President Logistics and Operations at PHAC, and will be assisted by Brig.-Gen. Simon Bernard and Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie with logistical planning and co-ordination.
“This will be the biggest immunization in the history of the country,” Trudeau said. “We must reach everyone who wants a vaccine, no matter where they live.”
Fortin most recently served as the Chief of Staff for the Canadian Joint Operations Command, but has also served as the commander of NATO’s Iraq mission between 2018-19. He graduated from the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in 1991, and has also spent time working for the U.S. Army and with the United Nations in Bosnia.
“The Canadian Armed Forces will assist on planning, including to meet challenges like cold storage requirements, data-sharing, and reaching Indigenous and rural communities,” Trudeau said.
Further complicating the tall task of distributing millions of vials across the country, a number of the vaccine candidates being tested—including the Pfizer vaccine— require two doses and must be stored at very cold temperatures.
The government has begun procuring freezers that are able to stay cold enough to keep the vaccine supply stable, and the procurement process is underway for a contract tender to ship, fly, and drive doses to all regions of the country.
The military says it is helping “synchronize” vaccine deliveries, put in place “risk-mitigation tools” and conduct “a series of exercises” ahead of vaccines being administered.
Right now the military isn’t set to play a role in actually administering needles to the public, but Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said if the provinces indicate they need assistance, it could be considered.
The prime minister spoke with provinces again Thursday evening about the COVID-19 response and said the federal government is offering the latest information it can, after frustration and confusion about timelines and plans bubbled over this week.
“We have continued to work with the provinces on vaccine delivery logistics, since last spring. We’ve been engaged, understanding that a vaccine was the way we were going to get through this pandemic,” Trudeau said.
‘TOUGHEST DAYS OF THIS PANDEMIC’
Noting that Ontario hit a new record for the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single day on Friday, and Canadians from coast to coast are adjusting to new levels of restrictions in the face of the second wave, Trudeau said that Canada is in “some of the toughest days of this pandemic.” Trudeau restated that as the country waits for vaccines, the standard public health measures still need to be taken.
As Tam reported on Friday, Canada is now averaging 5,300 new daily cases a day, with continued “rapid growth,” in many parts of the country. She said Canada is on track to double the new daily case counts within a week or two if Canadians don’t limit their outings and interactions to those that are essential.
“We’re in this together, and the more we work as a team, the better we’ll all do,” said the prime minister on Friday.
With files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer and Solarina Ho
Ontario reports record-high 1,855 new COVID-19 cases – CBC.ca
Ontario reported a record-high 1,855 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with officials saying it will be at least two weeks before lockdowns imposed in Toronto and Peel Region have any tangible effect on the province’s case numbers.
“There’s been a lot of celebrations over the past couple of weeks,” Premier Doug Ford said, a message echoed by Health Minister Christine Elliott, who said a rise in cases was expected at this point.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Ford also called on the federal government to provide more clarity around when Ontario can expect to receive vaccines — something he said will be key for retired general Rick Hillier, who is leading the provincial vaccine rollout taskforce.
“It was my duty to agree to the premier’s request to lead the task force in this war to defeat COVID-19,” Hillier said. “We will be ready as of December 31, 2020 to receive the vaccine, no matter when it arrives, and to ensure the people of Ontario are vaccinated.
Hillier also acknowledged that while there will be bumps in the vaccine’s rollout, he believes those most at-risk should receive it first.
Ford calls out anti-lockdown demonstrators
During his news conference, Ford also addressed Kingston-area MPP Randy Hillier’s anti-lockdown demonstration outside Queen’s Park Thursday.
“I think MPP Randy Hillier is being totally irresponsible,” Ford said.
He said it’s the province’s responsibility to protect Ontarians, even if they are against vaccines or are anti-maskers.
The premier went on to call out those protesting outside his home on a near-daily basis, saying his neighbours have been intimidated and threatened.
“You don’t go after people’s neighbours and their families,” Ford said. “Stop acting like a bunch of buffoons.”
Also Friday, Ontario processed more than 58,000 tests, also a record.
New cases in the province include 517 in Peel Region, 494 in Toronto, 189 in York Region and 130 in Halton Region.
They pushed the seven-day average of daily cases to 1,489, the highest the number has been since the first confirmed infection was reported in Ontario in late January.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:
- Hamilton: 82
- Waterloo Region: 74
- Durham Region: 65
- Ottawa: 55
- Windsor-Essex: 52
- Simcoe Muskoka: 38
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 27
- Niagara: 20
- Brant County: 16
- Huron Perth: 14
- Grey Bruce: 11
- Middlesex-London: 10
- Haldimand-Norfolk: 10
There are also 122 school-related infections, of which 99 are students and 23 are staff members. There are 671 publicly funded schools in Ontario, or about 14 per cent, with at least one reported instance of COVID-19. Six schools are closed because of outbreaks.
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)
5 regions moving into more restrictive zones
The province also announced that five more regions will move into more restrictive zones starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday:
- Windsor-Essex County Health Unit
- Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
- Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
- Lambton Public Health
- Northwestern Health Unit
There are currently 13,255 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, the most there have been in Ontario since the pandemic began.
The 58,037 test samples processed between 2 p.m. Wednesday and 2 p.m. Thursday is nearly 10,000 more than the previous high, which came on Oct. 8. The province’s network of community, commercial and hospital labs reported a test positivity rate of 3.7 per cent. Public health officials have previously said they hope to build capacity for 100,000 tests daily by mid-December.
Meanwhile, the number of people with COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals fell by 15 to 541. Those patients being treated in intensive care stayed steady at 151, while patients being ventilated decreased slightly by four, to 101.
The province also recorded 20 more deaths linked to the illness, pushing the official death toll to 3,595. So far this month, 450 people with COVID-19 have died in Ontario.
Looking for more information about the COVID-19 situation in Ontario? These CBC News stories can help:
What does the latest modelling suggest?
What is the province recommending for the holiday season?
What about for daily life?
In Toronto, where a lockdown is in place, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, warned residents that COVID-19 is now hitting nearly every neighbourhood hard.
WATCH | All of Toronto at risk, city’s top health official says:
Ontario Premier Doug Ford to make announcement with head of COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force – CTV Toronto
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to make an announcement Friday afternoon alongside the new head of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.
CTVNewsToronto.ca will stream the announcement live at 1 p.m.
Earlier this week, the premier announced the retired Gen. Rick Hillier would chair the task force, which will advise the province’s development and rollout of the immunization program.
Health Minister Christine Elliott has previously said the province is likely to roll out the first doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine between January and March of 2021, followed by a second batch from March until “about” July.
But on Thursday, the health minister suggested that the timeline may not be set in stone.
“This is very concerning and very disappointing because our understanding was that this had been finalized by the federal government. Now it appears maybe it is not,” Elliott told reporters Thursday.
“So it’s really incumbent on the prime minister to stand up for Canada, and make sure that we get our share of the vaccines during the timeframes that they originally stated.”
The comments came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada doesn’t have a strong vaccine production capacity and the first doses will likely go to other people in countries where they are produced.
The COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but they could receive the stamp of approval as early as December.
Friday’s announcement also comes one day after the province released new COVID-19 modelling data showing that more than 200 COVID-19 patients will be admitted to Ontario intensive care units (ICU) in December “under any scenario.”
The government has previously said that once the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU exceeds 150, it becomes harder to support non-COVID-19 needs, the government said. Once it exceeds 350 people, it becomes “impossible” to handle.
The modelling also suggests that if COVID-19 cases grow at a rate of three per cent, Ontario could record more than 4,000 cases per day by Dec. 30.
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