Despite COVID-19 struggles in Western Canada, Via Rail reopens Winnipeg to Vancouver train route

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      Although B.C. health officials have asked British Columbians not to travel, and despite challenges in reducing COVID-19 case numbers across Canada, a Canadian train corporation has begun its reopening plan, by resuming service to Western Canada.

      Via Rail had announced on October 20 that it would begin its “gradual return to service” in Western Canada today (December 11) after suspending travel in the region in March.

      It will offer one round-trip per week between Winnipeg and Vancouver, which will take four days and four nights. The route will include Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, and Kamloops. 

      This route is part of a longer trip that connects Vancouver to Toronto.

      Added health measures aboard the trains include physical distancing enhanced air ventilation systems, improved passenger access, and protection for employees. Masks must be worn at all stations and on trains.

      “In the event of major changes related to the health crisis, Via Rail will revise its service offering in line with the latest developments,” the company had stated in its October 20 news release.

      The company has extended its cancellation policy (which allows passengers to cancel their reservations online for a full refund) to include all travel through December 31, 2020.

      As of December 10, the federal government reported the the following numbers of active cases in Western Canada:

      • British Columbia: 10,525
      • Alberta: 20,163
      • Saskatchewan: 4,682
      • Manitoba: 5,380

      Today, the Western Canadian provinces reported the following new cases and deaths:

      • B.C. had 737 new cases and 11 new deaths;
      • Alberta reported 1,738 new cases and 18 new deaths;
      • Saskatchewan had 246 new cases and no deaths (for the first time since December 5);
      • Manitoba reported 447 new cases and 14 new deaths.

      Alberta implemented a province-wide mandatory mask policy and banned all private and public gatherings on December 8. Additional restrictions go into effect as of midnight on Sunday (December 13), which will affect restaurants and bars, entertainment centres, recreational facilities, museums and galleries, personal service businesses, and more. 

      Both B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have repeatedly asked British Columbians not to travel at this point in time.

      B.C. marked its most fatal day during the pandemic yesterday, with a total of 28 deaths. Henry said that 26 of those deaths were among seniors in longterm care homes.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.