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Prime minister pleads with Canadians not to travel abroad, people do it anyway

Click to play video 'COVID-19 pandemic not deterring travelers from seeking the sun this holiday season' COVID-19 pandemic not deterring travelers from seeking the sun this holiday season
As Quebec's COVID-19 cases continue to climb, some Quebecers are still deciding to take a break from pandemic life. On Christmas Eve, planes full of Quebec travellers took off for sunny destinations. Global's Dan Spector has the details. – Dec 24, 2020

In spite of warnings from the federal and provincial governments, Canadians are still heading down south for the Christmas holidays.

Flights left from multiple Canadian airports for Mexico, Cuba and other sunny destinations Thursday morning.

“Let’s be clear: this is not the time for a vacation abroad,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference at Rideau Cottage Wednesday afternoon.

On Thursday his words didn’t seem to resonate with dozens of Montrealers at Trudeau airport as they prepared to head down to Mexico amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not worried at all,” Oleg Bitka said as he and his family checked in for their flight to the resort town of Cancun, Mexico.

Air Transat had one flight going to Cancun and one flight going to Puerto Vallarta Thursday morning. According to an agent, both were packed. Multiple flights left Pearson airport in Toronto for Mexico, Cuba and other destinations on Thursday morning as well.

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Read more: Canada watching for new COVID-19 variant, warns against travel to U.K.

“It’s not necessarily all people leaving for vacation — there are people going to work, too,” said Carole Boyer, who said she was a travel agent going to Mexico for work purposes. “People shouldn’t travel if it’s not essential, but you can’t really stop people from doing what they want.”

Health professionals were upset to hear warnings from politicians had fallen on deaf ears.

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“Well, it’s very disappointing. This is not the time for international travel. International travel obviously helps spread the virus,” said Dr. Christopher Labos, a cardiologist in Montreal.

An airline pilot told Global News being on a busy plane is actually very safe.

“The entirety of the air in the cabin is renewed every three to five minutes,” said Dominic Daoust, who was laid off earlier this year because of COVID-19.

Experts worry about people letting their guard down while interacting with others on vacation.

“You don’t go on vacation to sit alone in your hotel room,” said Labos.

Public health rules say all international travellers need to self-isolate for two weeks when they get home.

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Read more: Ontario premier demands increased coronavirus testing at airports as new variant emerges

“Travellers are referred to a quarantine officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) at the point of entry for assessment,” said Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

She said travellers are asked what their isolation plan is, and that if the plan is inadequate, the quarantine officer may send the traveller to a “federally managed site.”

Bitka told Global News he and his family would quarantine upon their return from Mexico.

“Travellers in isolation and quarantine receive calls, and also emails, during their 14-day period,” Jarbeau said, adding that fines, warnings and arrests are among the potential consequences for breaking the rules.

Labos said he doesn’t believe the current system is enough to keep people in one location.

“Right now we largely rely on the honour system to make sure that people follow this,” said the cardiologist.

Quebec and Ontario are both thinking of adding teeth to self-isolation rules.

“We both worry about quarantine. We want to make sure it’s done properly, make sure people are doing followups to make sure it’s respected,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said earlier this week.

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Airports across the country are working toward implementing rapid testing, with pilot projects underway in multiple cities.

Daoust, the pilot, thinks a widespread rollout of on-site testing would lighten the quarantine requirements and kickstart the travel business.

“We need to find ways to get to get the industry moving again because the demand is there,” he said.

Aviation experts say the battered airline sector needs every flight it can get.

“Their business is in terrible shape, and they believe — and so does ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and the World Health Organization — that it’s safe to travel. It’s the parts after you’ve travelled and come back that are more problematic,” said Karl Moore, a McGill management professor and aviation analyst.

Moore believes the federal government has not implemented a full non-essential travel ban at least partially because of lobbying from the airline industry.

Doctors fear asymptomatic spread from returning travellers.

“A lot of the hospitals are at or near capacity now, and it’s not going to take much to tip them over the edge,” said Labos.