International air travel to Canada continues to rise, despite coronavirus border restrictions

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Despite growing concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus abroad, including record-breaking numbers in several U.S. states, the volume of international travellers arriving at Canadian airports each week continues to rise.

Between June 29 and July 12, roughly 91,300 travellers entered Canada by air, according to statistics released by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

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Of these, roughly 27,000 passengers arrived on flights from the U.S., while 64,000 came from other countries directly. About 40,000 of the 91,000 passengers were either non-Canadian citizens or non-permanent residents.

The CBSA does not provide a breakdown of which countries people arrive from specifically, other than the U.S., but has previously said any foreign national must meet exemption requirements outlined in the government’s orders banning non-essential travel before they are allowed to enter Canada.

This includes immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, temporary foreign workers, international students or valid work permit holders, and anyone whose work is considered essential.

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As Global News reported last week, the number of air travellers arriving in Canada has increased significantly since late April, when the volume of international passengers was at its lowest during the pandemic.

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In late April, the number of passengers arriving in Canada each week averaged roughly 15,000. By mid to late June, this figure increased to roughly 30,000 a week.

During the first two weeks of July it averaged roughly 45,000 a week.

Overall, air travel to Canada is down by about 95 per cent compared to this time last year, when more than 800,000 people a week entered the country on international flights.

The government previously told Global News the recent increase in international air travel is likely due to several factors, including Canadians and permanent residents returning home who previously couldn’t do so due to travel restrictions in other countries, a small number of reuniting family members, and foreign nationals exempt to current border restrictions.

CBSA does not ‘systematically track’ exemptions

There have been concerns in recent weeks that a small number of international travellers could be taking advantage or skirting the rules for who’s allowed to enter Canada.

These concerns are primarily about Americans who crossed the Canada-U.S. land border using the “Alaska exemption” and were then spotted sightseeing, even though they are required to drive directly from the border to Alaska.

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Police have also issued fines to travellers for failing to self-isolate for 14 days after entering Canada, including a Florida couple charged by Ontario Provincial Police.

Meanwhile, the recent spike in air travel has also caused concern.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and professor at the University of Toronto, told Global News he was disturbed by the increase in travellers between late April and June. He also said he had a hard time believing the increase was due exclusively to “essential” travel.

“Governments keep on saying people shouldn’t (travel). We’ve got to stop saying shouldn’t and start saying can’t,” Furness said.

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Since May 25, when the CBSA started reporting weekly updates on the number of Canadians and permanent residents entering Canada by air, there have been roughly 108,000 foreign nationals who have arrived in Canada on international flights, including from the U.S.

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Global News previously asked the government to provide a breakdown of the exemptions used to allow foreign nationals to enter Canada, plus a breakdown of travellers by nationality, but was told this information is not available.

“The statistics you have requested are not available as we do not systematically track this information,” said CBSA spokesperson Mark Stuart in email from June 25.

Before boarding a plane bound for Canada all passengers must undergo a temperature check. They’re also asked if they are ill or have symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Upon arriving in Canada, passengers are asked by border officials if they have a fever, cough or if they feel sick. Those who say yes, and those who say no but appear to be sick, are referred to officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada for additional screening. Passengers are also observed for signs of illness by border officials at different locations throughout the airport, including baggage and arrivals areas.

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Anyone entering Canada is also required to self-isolate for 14 days — unless they’re an essential worker, in which case they’re exempt from this requirement — and must complete a contact tracing form so health officials can connect.

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Global News asked the government for comment about the most recent weekly statistics. A spokesperson for CBSA said no new information was available.



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