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Why the federal government lets Canadians travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic – CBC.ca

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News reports that many snowbirds are heading south this winter — despite the COVID-19 pandemic — have angered some fellow Canadians who feel they shouldn’t be allowed to go. 

“I think this should be absolutely, 100 per cent stopped,” said Barry Tate of Sidney, B.C. “This is a pandemic. This is life and death.”

Tate and his wife, Patti Locke-Lewkowich, usually travel to Mexico for two months each winter. But this year they’re staying home, due to fears of falling ill with COVID-19 while abroad. 

“We feel safer at home in the confines of our little home here,” said Locke-Lewkowich.

However, some snowbirds argue they’ll be just as safe down south, because they plan to take all necessary COVID-19-related precautions.

Barry Tate and Patti Locke-Lewkowich of Sidney, B.C. on a past visit to La Manzanilla, Mexico. The couple normally spent two months in Mexco, but won’t be going this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Patti Locke-Lewkowich)

The federal government sides with Locke-Lewkowich, advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel abroad during the pandemic.

But it’s only an advisory, which means Canadians can still freely leave and return to Canada — a decision that’s rooted in Canadians’ constitutional rights.

“It’s always a balance between allowing people to kind of live their lives, and the government attempting to keep health crises under control,” said Kerri Froc, a constitutional law expert.

Please don’t go

In March, the federal government issued its advisory not to travel abroad, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

After the cold weather hit in the fall and some snowbirds started packing their bags, the government doubled down on its messaging.

Last month, it posted an alert on its website, warning seniors to stay home, because their age makes them more vulnerable to falling seriously ill with COVID-19. 

This month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland each made a public plea. 

“This is not the time for non-essential travel. It’s not a good idea,” said Freeland in French at a news conference on Monday. 

Watch: Canada’s chief public officer talks about COVID-19’s future

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam talks to The National’s Andrew Chang about the holiday season and getting to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. 6:31

However, Freeland added that the government won’t bar people from leaving. “We will not stop them,” she said in French.

As a result, Canadians are free to travel to countries that have open borders, including the United States which — despite a closed land border — still allows Canadians to fly to the country. 

Meanwhile, some other western nations — such as Australia, France and England — prevent their citizens from travelling abroad for non-essential travel, as part of current lockdown measures to help curb infection rates. 

Scotland also bans citizens who live in designated COVID-19 hotspots from travelling outside the country. 

“Going on holiday, including abroad, is not a reasonable excuse to leave,” the Scottish government states on its website.

Why doesn’t Canada have a travel ban?

During a government committee meeting on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that the government doesn’t have the authority to prevent Canadians from travelling abroad. “And they have, under the Constitution, a right of return,” he added. 

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that Canadians have the right to enter and leave the country. 

Kerri Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said that Canada must balance its handling of the COVID-19 crisis with Canadians’ constitutional rights.

Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the government could only limit that right for justifiable reasons, and that justifying a travel ban would likely be an uphill battle. 

“The court takes a really dim view of absolute bans,” she said. “I’m totally in favour of government taking the COVID crisis seriously, making policy to restrict travel, but they have to do so in a way that pays sufficient respect to people’s constitutional rights.”

What are the risks?

Locke-Lewkowich, who’s staying home this winter, said she accepts that Canadians have the right to travel abroad, but hopes those who do so won’t get government aid if they run into trouble.

“Is Canada going to bail them out with our money?” she said. 

When COVID-19 began its global spread in the spring and many flights were cancelled, Global Affairs Canada worked with airlines to fly stranded Canadians home.

But now the government department warns it may not assist Canadian travellers a second time round. 

“The Government of Canada is not planning any further facilitated flights to repatriate Canadians and may have limited capacity to offer consular services,” said Global Affairs spokesperson, Christelle Chartrand in an email. 

Chartrand advised that, before leaving the country, Canadians verify if their medical insurance covers COVID-19-related illnesses and a possible extended stay abroad. 

Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he advises his snowbird clients not to travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Martin Firestone)

Travel insurance broker, Martin Firestone, said if travellers fail to purchase adequate insurance and fall ill, they will be on the hook for the bill — and that includes any medevac charges. 

“You aren’t getting medevaced home unless you give them a credit card first and they put it through and then it reads approved,” said Firestone with Travel Secure in Toronto. “To the best of my knowledge, I don’t see it falling back on the taxpayer.”

Despite the risks, many snowbirds still plan on heading south; Firestone said that around 40 per cent of his 1,000 snowbird clients have already booked their trips.

“That’s with me telling them not to go,” said Firestone who advises his clients not to travel during the pandemic. 

“Even as good as you protect yourself, you still can’t protect yourself against [the] total unknown.”

Canadian travellers returning home must quarantine for 14 days. Freeland said that the rule will continue to be “very strictly enforced.”

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New cases of COVID-19 dropping in Canada as experts say lockdowns are working – CTV News

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TORONTO —
New cases of COVID-19 have steadily dropped over the last 12 days, a downward trend that experts say offers reason for hope even as the second wave pushes hospitals dangerously close to capacity.

Tracking by CTVNews.ca shows the country’s seven-day average has consistently fallen since Jan. 10, from 8,260 cases to 5,957 cases by Jan. 22.

Twelve days may seem brief, but infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the trajectory is a clear trend in the right direction.

“It looks like we have at least started to turn the corner, but we have a long road ahead,” Bogoch told CTVNews.ca on Friday.

The downward trend is particularly good news because respiratory viruses typically flourish during the winter, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla.

“Clearly it’s not just a few days’ numbers. There is a significant decrease, which is great,” Chagla said.

It may be tempting to point to vaccines as a potential reason for the drop, particularly as countries such as Israel have seen cases plummet amid their own aggressive vaccination plan. But both doctors rejected the idea that vaccines are responsible, since only two per cent of Canada’s population has received vaccines. In Israel, more than a quarter of the country has been vaccinated.

“(Canada’s vaccines) have been rolled out primarily to long-term care and health-care workers. That enough is not enough to drive down the case counts,” Chagla said.

Instead, both Chagla and Bogoch point to stricter public health measures in Quebec and Ontario, where lockdowns have shuttered non-essential businesses and social gatherings have been banned for weeks.

“So really it does come to the lockdowns,” Chagla said.

The downward trend comes at a time when some experts had predicted the country would still be experiencing the worst of a post-holiday surge in cases. While that’s not happening right now, Bogoch pointed out that Canada still experienced a sharp rise in cases following the holidays, with Canada’s seven-day average hitting its peak on Jan. 8 with 8,310 cases.

“It was pretty bad. I honestly think if we didn’t have those measures to blunt it, it would’ve been significantly worse,” he said.

Even as new cases fall, Canadian hospitals continue to struggle to keep up with hospitalizations, according to David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

“Unfortunately critical illness lags, so we still have ICU admissions at high levels that reflect the holiday surge,” he said.

Canada’s case count may hold promising news, including the possibility of providing more breathing room for hospitals, but Bogoch said it’s far too soon to pat ourselves on the back.

“I still think we’ve got to be careful here. While the trend is going down, we can’t let out guard down,” Bogoch said.

“We cannot plateau. We have to continue that downward trend.”​

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Canadians told to stay in their home province and cancel all travel plans – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Canadians have been told to stay in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the Prime Minister wants you to stay in your province too.

“No one should be taking a vacation right now. If you’ve got one planned, cancel it” Justin Trudeau said, adding that, “if you are thinking of traveling across the country for spring break – now is not the time.”

As the government urges Canadians to stay home to try and contain the spread of COVID-19, it is also urging anyone who has booked non-essential travel to cancel it.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said “50,000 cancellations (for international travel) demonstrates that people are understanding that this is a delicate situation that Canada finds itself in at the moment.”

While a travel ban is not in effect, there are now so many rules when it comes to traveling that taking a trip would be extremely difficult.

U.S. President Joe Biden has also brought in new travel rules. Now, to enter the United States you need a negative COVID test result and must quarantine 14 days.

When you return to Canada you also need a negative test result and must also quarantine for 14 days. Martin Firestone with Travel Secure believes if it becomes increasingly difficult to travel, people will just stay home.

“They are putting all these layers in place for only one reason and that is to deter you or de-incentivize you from traveling,” Firestone said.

As the vaccine rolls out against the virus, having the shot won’t change the rules when it comes to travelling.

“From an insurance perspective they don’t care if you have had the vaccine. From a government perspective they don’t care if you have had the vaccine. All the rules are the same whether you have had it or not,” Firestone said.

Legally, the government cannot force Canadians not to travel, however the Prime Minister said stronger restrictions could be implemented if necessary.

Trudeau said the federal government is also considering a mandatory quarantine in hotels for returning travelers.

The government has secured hotel rooms around Canada’s largest airports and has already spent millions of dollars on hotel rooms for people who said they had nowhere else to quarantine.

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New cases of COVID-19 dropping in Canada as experts say lockdowns are working – CTV News

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TORONTO —
New cases of COVID-19 have steadily dropped over the last 12 days, a downward trend that experts say offers reason for hope even as the second wave pushes hospitals dangerously close to capacity.

Tracking by CTVNews.ca shows the country’s seven-day average has consistently fallen since Jan. 10, from 8,260 cases to 5,957 cases by Jan. 22.

Twelve days may seem brief, but infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the trajectory is a clear trend in the right direction.

“It looks like we have at least started to turn the corner, but we have a long road ahead,” Bogoch told CTVNews.ca on Friday.

The downward trend is particularly good news because respiratory viruses typically flourish during the winter, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla.

“Clearly it’s not just a few days’ numbers. There is a significant decrease, which is great,” Chagla said.

It may be tempting to point to vaccines as a potential reason for the drop, particularly as countries such as Israel have seen cases plummet amid their own aggressive vaccination plan. But both doctors rejected the idea that vaccines are responsible, since only two per cent of Canada’s population has received vaccines. In Israel, more than a quarter of the country has been vaccinated.

“(Canada’s vaccines) have been rolled out primarily to long-term care and health-care workers. That enough is not enough to drive down the case counts,” Chagla said.

Instead, both Chagla and Bogoch point to stricter public health measures in Quebec and Ontario, where lockdowns have shuttered non-essential businesses and social gatherings have been banned for weeks.

“So really it does come to the lockdowns,” Chagla said.

The downward trend comes at a time when some experts had predicted the country would still be experiencing the worst of a post-holiday surge in cases. While that’s not happening right now, Bogoch pointed out that Canada still experienced a sharp rise in cases following the holidays, with Canada’s seven-day average hitting its peak on Jan. 8 with 8,310 cases.

“It was pretty bad. I honestly think if we didn’t have those measures to blunt it, it would’ve been significantly worse,” he said.

Even as new cases fall, Canadian hospitals continue to struggle to keep up with hospitalizations, according to David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

“Unfortunately critical illness lags, so we still have ICU admissions at high levels that reflect the holiday surge,” he said.

Canada’s case count may hold promising news, including the possibility of providing more breathing room for hospitals, but Bogoch said it’s far too soon to pat ourselves on the back.

“I still think we’ve got to be careful here. While the trend is going down, we can’t let out guard down,” Bogoch said.

“We cannot plateau. We have to continue that downward trend.”​

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