Members of Saskatchewan’s travel industry are expecting to see more people catching flights as the federal government eases some of its COVID-19 border rules.
As of Monday, several changes came into effect for those travelling into Canada. One main change is that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children aged five to 11 no longer have to complete a pre-entry COVID-19 test to enter Canada if they are accompanied by a fully vaccinated parent or guardian.
Additionally, international travellers who are fully vaccinated, children five to 11 or those who have a medical exemption from vaccinations no longer have to present a quarantine plan upon entering Canada.
The president and CEO of the Regina Airport Authority (RAA) said lifting some of these restrictions is likely to result in increased travel.
“We believe this is going to help families who want to, for example, go on vacation or leisure travel, have an easier travel experience regardless of their vaccination status. We’re very, very pleased to see these relaxations to hope encourage more travel,” James Bogusz, RAA president and CEO, said.
“Having this additional relaxation really helps those families with young children.”
He said there was a noticeable difference when testing was lifted for those 12 and older on April 1, adding the price and organization of testing had been a deterrent for some travellers.
Over the past few months as restrictions have eased, the Regina airport has seen an increase in travellers compared to the lows brought on by the pandemic.
“We’re now seeing travel volumes picking up between 60, and even we had a couple of days last week of over 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels,” Bogusz said. “After May 1 and into the summer season, we’re going to be enjoying almost 90 per cent of pre-pandemic airline capacity, which is incredible.”
Shannan Schill, a travel manager with CAA Regina South Albert, said she’s expecting to see travel increase as more regulations are lifted.
“I think it’s just going to give people a little bit more security when they’re travelling. I think it makes them feel like it’s maybe a little safer and that they don’t have to jump through so many hoops to travel,” Schill said. “Each time the restrictions decrease a little bit, we do see a little bit of an increase.”
Schill said CAA has seen more people travelling over the past few months.
“People just want to see their families, they want to be able to do some exploring. Everybody’s put their lives on hold for the last two years and I think that everyone is just ready to start living again,” Schill said.
The Regina Airport will still have testing for travellers heading to different countries.
Bogusz said it’s important for travellers to remember that they could still be selected at random to complete a test.
“When you do go through a port of entry, whether it be Regina directly or a major hub like Calgary, Toronto or Vancouver, you may be asked to take a random at-home testing kit with you and then do a COVID-19 test at home and mail it in,” Bogusz said.
MASKING REMAINS IMPORTANT DURING TRAVEL: SASK. DOCTORS
Some Saskatchewan doctors said they aren’t shocked to see some regulations being lifted in the country.
“Globally, some restrictions around travel are easing and so it’s not surprising that the Canadian government has fallen into line with that,” Dr. Dennis Kendel, a health policy consultant, said.
He said one of the biggest differences among the latest round of changes is that travellers are no longer required to provide a quarantine plan, and adds he’s pleased masking and proof of vaccination on flights are still mandatory.
“Overall, I wish we wouldn’t be in such a rush to drop these protections. These are protections and COVID-19 is still spreading rapidly throughout our populations and travel is one source of contact and spread,” Kendel said.
“I hope we won’t be in such a rush to abandon absolutely all protections, but there is going to be some changes as we move forward.
Dr. Cory Neudorf, an interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, agreed that masking on flights remains an important tool right now.
“Compared to how much COVID-19 is circulating out there right now, I don’t expect that these changes will impact our current situation much,” Neudorf said. “Regardless of changes to restrictions for testing in some travellers, people should be seeking to avoid travel if they are ill so as not to spread to others.”
On Friday, federal health officials told media that there are no current plans to lift the vaccine mandates for boarding planes, trains or cruise ships, or the mask mandate.