Airline argues in open letter Canada should ease blanket travel restrictions and quarantines in favour of science-based measures
Air Canada’s Chief Medical Officer is asking the federal government to scale back international travel restrictions that have seen foreign citizens generally banned from entering the country and 14-day quarantines for those who enter the country.
“The situation is becoming increasingly urgent,” wrote Dr. Jim Chung in a letter addressed to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu released Tuesday. “Canada has made virtually no change to its quarantine restrictions since mid-March, despite continuing improvements containing the spread of the virus both in our country and in many others. This is severely impacting Air Canada, our customers and employees as well as an overall recovery.”
The federal government has barred all non-essential travel to Canada by foreign citizens, though exceptions are allowed such as for family immediate members and essential travel. Anyone arriving in the country is required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.
The national governments of Canada and the United States agreed this week to extend a border closure to non-essential traffic until at least August 21, though it is possible to fly into the U.S. from Canada in most cases. Dr. Chung emphasized he was not asking for those restrictions to be lifted.
“To be clear, given the current challenges in the United States in controlling the virus, we are not proposing relaxing the U.S. border restrictions at this time,” he wrote.
Dr. Chung urged the federal government to adopt measures used in other countries, such as allowing travel from countries deemed safe, similar to the European Union’s decision to allow foreigners, including Canadians, to enter the bloc.
In the Air Canada proposal, citizens from countries with an infection rate similar to, or better than, Canada’s would be allowed to enter without having to self-isolate. That list would be updated every two weeks. Citizens from countries that don’t qualify for an exemption would have to have a COVID test within 72 hours of departure, according to Air Canada’s plan.
Countries such as Germany, Greenland, and Turkey would qualify for an exemption under the airline’s proposal. Air Canada said other countries in the G20, representing many of the world’s largest economies, have already adopted similar measures.
In the past week, the airline has partnered with Spartan Bioscience to deploy portable COVID-19 testing kits (which still need to be approved by Health Canada) and with the Cleveland Clinic for medical guidance.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on airlines, as both of Canada’s major airlines have scaled back their summer schedules by 75% compared to last year. In response, they have stepped up cleaning measures in a bid to reassure nervous passengers. The situation has led to thousands of layoffs in the aviation sector.
Air Canada is part of a coalition of more than 120 business leaders asking Ottawa and the provinces to relax internal and international travel restrictions.
Premiers in Atlantic Canada started along the reopening path in early July, creating a so-called “bubble” where residents could visit any province within the region, though restrictions remain in place for those coming from west of the Quebec-New Brunswick boundary. Manitoba and Canada’s three territories all maintain some level of internal travel restrictions.
There is no easy answer. On Tuesday, British Columbia’s medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said that officials need better information and cooperation from airlines in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“Given the importance of this matter, we urgently require a response,” wrote Dr. Chung.
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