Tonight, the Canadian government issued a series of announcements and advisories regarding travel to and from Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcements regard recommendations about avoiding travel outside Canada, what challenges travellers could face if they do travel abroad, temporary changes to air carrier regulations regarding passengers, and what measures border security is taking.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11, the federal government has raised the health risk level for travel to all countries to Level 3, or avoid all non-essential travel. (Previously, only China, Italy, and Iran were listed at this level, with some other countries, such as Japan, South Korea, France, and Germany, listed at lower risk levels.)
Echoing what B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry stated on March 12 for British Columbians, Canada is advising all citizens to avoid non-essential travel outside the nation until further notice.
The government is also warning that travellers who do head abroad may face numerous challenges including cancelled flights; travel, border restrictions, or quarantines; new restrictions imposed with little warning; or being forced to remain outside Canada for longer than planned.
Anyone currently outside the country is being advised to check what commercial options remain available to return to Canada and to consider returning before options become even more limited.
Any Canadians traveling outside the country are encouraged to register with Registration of Canadians Abroad, a free service that enables the government to notify citizens in case of emergency.
As previously announced, all cruise ship travel is advised to be avoided, and the federal government is delaying the start of cruise ship arrivals in Canada.
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) announced that it is allowing for air carriers to be exempt to some Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) due to circumstances related to COVID-19.
The regulations establish what an air carrier is responsible for regarding passengers.
The CTA has identified situations due to the pandemic that are outside an air carrier’s control, including flight disruptions resulting from government advisories against travel to specified locations.
In such cases, air carriers are not required to provide standards of treatment or compensation for inconvenience but would have to ensure that the passenger completes their itinerary.
Passengers will be entitled to compensation for inconvenience related to flight cancellations or delays until April 30.
From March 13 to April 30, carriers are exempt from the requirement to pay compensation for delays and cancellations as long as they are communicated at least 72 hours in advance (which has been changed from 14 days) and that they result in delays at destination of less than six hours (changed from three hours).
In addition, the levels of compensation to be paid for delays of six or more hours have been reduced.
After that date, air carriers will be given more flexibility to alter schedules and combine flights. Air carriers will be permitted to make schedule changes until 72 hours (instead of 14 days) before a scheduled departure time without owing compensation to passengers.
Air carriers will be exempt from providing alternate travel arrangement on other air carriers with which they don’t have any commercial agreement.
Under the APPR, carriers aren't obligated to pay compensation for delays and cancellations directly related to COVID-19, including when necessary due to government action (such as travel bans and flight restrictions) as they are outside of the control of the carrier.
After April 30, the CTA will decide if these temporary measures will be extended.
The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) stated that enhanced screening has been taking place at airports since the beginning of February and at all land, rail, and marine ports since early March.
All travellers arriving from the Chinese province of Hubei, Iran, or Italy have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms.
A general COVID-19 information handout is being presented at all points of entry.
Travellers of concern will be provided with a surgical mask kit with instruction on how to use it.
However, the CBSA did not state that it is banning or restricting the entry of any travellers arriving from specific locations as other countries have done.
The CBSA did say that it has the capacity to take additional measures if required and will make changes according to the evolving situation.
Today, B.C. Premier John Horgan expressed concerns about travel between B.C. and Washington state, where there are approximately 570 cases while B.C. has 64 cases.
CBC News reported that Premier Horgan has made it clear to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who is in self-isolation after his wife was diagnosed with the virus) that he wants these B.C. points of entry addressed.
As the state of the pandemic remains in constant flux, these advisories and measures remain subject to change as well.
For more information on travel to and from Canada, visit the federal government's Travel Canada website. For more information about COVID-19 in B.C., visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.