Michel Dubois has packed his bags, even though his planned trip to Cuba is still more than two months away.
That’s because the retired TV cameraman and editor from Saint-Jérome, Que., is eager for a break from the monotony of pandemic life.
“After a year and a half of sitting in front of my TV and computer, it’s time to move on,” said Dubois, 70, who plans to do some scuba diving and enjoy the sun.
Trips like the one Dubois has booked are giving airlines and tour operators something to look forward to as well — seemingly better business prospects after months of severely hampered operations due to pandemic-related border closures and travel restrictions.
Some key travel players are reporting increased demand for bookings to sun destinations, despite the ongoing challenges of a global pandemic that has yet to end inside or outside Canada’s borders.
Better days ahead?
The onset of the pandemic prompted governments — including Canada’s — to urge people to stay home to stem the spread of the coronavirus and its variants.
It’s a stance Ottawa still holds, even though the government recently loosened restrictions for incoming travellers who are vaccinated.
“We continue to advise against non-essential travel outside of Canada,” Global Affairs Canada said in an email on Friday, noting that this applies to all countries around the globe.
The department also pointed to practical concerns for those who choose to go abroad.
“Additional travel restrictions can be imposed suddenly. Airlines can suspend or reduce flights without notice. Travel plans may be severely disrupted, making it difficult to return home.”
WATCH | Incoming travellers and Canada’s 4th COVID-19 wave:
Indeed, COVID-19 travel restrictions vary from country to country, with vaccine passports gaining traction with some governments. Prior to the current federal election campaign, Ottawa had announced plans to develop such documentation for international travel.
Then and now
Ambarish Chandra, an associate professor of economics at the University of Toronto, says that while the government actively discouraged travel last winter, that didn’t deter all people from going abroad — such as snowbirds who went to Florida.
With the progress on vaccination that has been made, Chandra said he believes Ottawa’s stance on leisure travel may have to shift.
“I don’t think it would be reasonable for the government to go a second winter season saying: ‘Don’t travel,'” Chandra said in an interview.
Jörg Fritz, an associate professor in the microbiology and immunology department at Montreal’s McGill University, says that as travel picks up, Canada will have to keep a close eye on what strains of the virus are circulating here and around the globe.
“We simply need to face that this virus will not go away that quickly,” he said.
“The danger that new variants arise that might escape vaccine-induced immunity is still there and will be there for quite a while.”
It’s also key for Canada to continue increasing its vaccination rate and to ensure that children are protected as soon as that is possible, Fritz said.
A desire to get away
Air Canada says the upcoming fall and winter looks promising for travel to sun destinations.
“When looking to the sun market, we are very optimistic about our recovery,” airline spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC News in a recent email, adding that “we are currently observing demand growth that is above 2019 levels.”
Meanwhile, Sunwing Travel Group reports seeing “encouraging demand” compared with last fall, which spokesperson Melanie Anne Filipp says shows Canadians are growing more confident about travelling again.
“The rise in vaccinations across the country and easing border measures have without a doubt contributed to Canadians’ increasing interest in travel to sun destinations,” said Filipp, who noted that business remains below pre-pandemic levels.
Montreal-based Air Transat is currently flying passengers to a mix of domestic and international locations. Some of its sun destinations include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico.
“We confirm that demand is doing well, and we clearly feel that the urge to travel is back,” Air Transat spokesperson Debbie Cabana said via email.
“However, because of the uncertainty that still exists when traveling abroad, bookings are being made more last minute than before the pandemic.”
Being able to back out
A last-minute travel buy was not the story for Dubois, the retired TV cameraman, who booked his own trip back in January.
But he also bought a ticket that will allow him to cancel his plans up to 24 hours before departure, with a full refund.
On prior trips, he hadn’t tended to pencil in the possibility of needing to cancel — but that was before COVID-19.
“Before now, no,” said Dubois, who worked for both CBC and Radio-Canada during his career. “Now, definitely.”
The University of Toronto’s Chandra says the more flexible arrangements being offered by airlines reflects the fact that some customers won’t be willing to book expensive tickets if there’s a chance they will lose their money.
Rolling out the welcome mat
Dubois is heading to Cuba at the end of November, and by that time, travel restrictions will have been eased.
The Cuban Tourism Ministry recently announced that as of Nov. 15, Canadians with proof of vaccination won’t have to take a test before heading to the country. They’ll also be able to travel across the island.
Sunwing’s Filipp said that “numerous sun destinations are already open for travel,” and like Cuba, other destinations are expected to ease restrictions of their own as vaccination rates rise and COVID-19 cases decline.
Chandra says he’s doubtful that differing rules between sun destinations will have much of an effect on travel patterns.
That’s because a lot of sun seekers — and snowbirds in particular — are likely to “stick to their choices” when it comes to their desired winter getaways. “They’re not going to go other places,” he said.
They’re also unlikely to go to other regions because they head south to take advantage of the better weather, he said.
It’s not Kanye, it’s Ye, after judge approves name change
Rapper Kanye West has won legal approval to officially shorten his name to Ye.
The 44-year-old musician, record producer and fashion entrepreneur has used Ye as his Twitter handle for years and had petitioned a court to make it his full name with no middle name or last name. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court approved his request on Monday, according to court documents.
“Ye” also was the name of the singer’s 2018 album. He told a radio host that year he believed ye is the most commonly used word in the Bible, where it means “you.”
Representatives for the entertainer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The musician recently released his 10th studio album, “Donda,” named after his late mother Donda West. He has been married to reality TV star Kim Kardashian West for about seven years. The pair are in the process of getting divorced, though they remain friendly and have been spotted together recently in public.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Richard Chang)
Africa calls for climate finance tracker after donors fall short
African countries want a new system to track funding from wealthy nations that are failing to meet a $100-billion annual target to help the developing world tackle climate change, Africa’s lead climate negotiator said.
The demand highlights tensions ahead of the COP26 climate summit between the world’s 20 largest economies, which are behind 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, and developing countries that are bearing the brunt of the effects of global warming.
“If we prove that someone is responsible for something, it is his responsibility to pay for that,” said Tanguy Gahouma, chair of the African Group of Negotiators at COP26, the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, which starts on Oct. 31.
In 2009, developed countries agreed to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to help the developing world deal with the fallout from a warming planet.
The latest available estimates from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show this funding hit $79.6 billion in 2019, just 2% more than in 2018.
The OECD data shows Asian countries on average received 43% of the climate finance in 2016-19, while Africa received 26%. Gahouma said a more detailed shared system was needed that would keep tabs on each country’s contribution and where it went on the ground.
“They say they achieved maybe 70% of the target, but we cannot see that,” Gahouma said.
“We need to have a clear roadmap how they will put on the table the $100 billion per year, how we can track (it),” he said in an interview on Thursday. “We don’t have time to lose and Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world.”
Temperatures in Africa are rising at a faster rate than the global average, according to the latest U.N. climate report. It forecasts further warming will lead to more extreme heatwaves, severe coastal flooding and intense rainfall on the continent.
Even as wealthy nations miss the $100 billion target, African countries plan to push for this funding to be scaled up more than tenfold by 2030.
“The $100 billion was a political commitment. It was not based on the real needs of developing countries to tackle climate change,” Gahouma said.
World leaders and their representatives have just a few days at the summit in Glasgow to try to broker deals to cut emissions faster and finance measures to adapt to climate pressures.
African countries face an extra challenge at the talks because administrative hurdles to entering Britain and to travelling during the coronavirus pandemic mean smaller than usual delegations can attend, Gahouma said.
“Limited delegations, with a very huge amount of work and limited time. This will be very challenging,” Gahouma said.
(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aaron Ross and Janet Lawrence)
Facebook to pay up to $14.25 million to settle U.S. employment discrimination claims
Facebook Inc has agreed to pay up to $14.25 million to settle civil claims by the U.S. government that the social media company discriminated against American workers and violated federal recruitment rules, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
The two related settlements were announced by the Justice Department and Labor Department and confirmed by Facebook. The Justice Department last December filed a lawsuit accusing Facebook of giving hiring preferences to temporary workers including those who hold H-1B visas that let companies temporarily employ foreign workers in certain specialty occupations. Such visas are widely used by tech companies.
Kristen Clarke, assistant U.S. attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, called the agreement with Facebook historic.
“It represents by far the largest civil penalty the Civil Rights Division has ever recovered in the 35-year history of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provision,” Clarke said in a call with reporters, referring to a key U.S. immigration law that bars discrimination against workers because of their citizenship or immigration status.
The case centered on Facebook’s use of the so-called permanent labor certification, called the PERM program.
The U.S. government said that Facebook refused to recruit or hire American workers for jobs that had been reserved for temporary visa holders under the PERM program. It also accused Facebook of “potential regulatory recruitment violations.”
Facebook will pay a civil penalty under the settlement of $4.75 million, plus up to $9.5 million to eligible victims of what the government called discriminatory hiring practices.
“While we strongly believe we met the federal government’s standards in our permanent labor certification (PERM) practices, we’ve reached agreements to end the ongoing litigation and move forward with our PERM program,” a Facebook spokesperson said, adding that the company intends to “continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the U.S. and around the world.”
The settlements come at a time when Facebook is facing increasing U.S. government scrutiny over other business practices.
Facebook this month faced anger from U.S. lawmakers after former company employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen accused it of pushing for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety. Haugen has turned over thousands of documents to congressional investigators amid concerns that Facebook has harmed children’s mental health and has stoked societal divisions.
The company has denied any wrongdoing.
In Tuesday’s settlements, the Justice Department said that Facebook used recruitment practices designed to deter U.S. workers such as requiring applications to be submitted only by mail, refusing to consider American workers who applied for positions and hiring only temporary visa holders.
The Labor Department this year conducted audits of Facebook’s pending PERM applications and uncovered other concerns about the company’s recruitment efforts.
“ Facebook is not above the law,” U.S. Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda told reporters, adding that the Labor Department is “committed to ensuring that the PERM process is not misused by employers – regardless of their size and reach.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)
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