Premier Jason Kenney reiterated on Thursday that he believes travelling by air during the COVID-19 pandemic is safer than going to a grocery store, but clarified he does not encourage Albertans to travel during the health crisis.
“I’m not telling people to travel,” the premier said while speaking to reporters for the first time after firing or demoting government officials who travelled abroad over the Christmas holidays.
“The position of our government has been to facilitate safe travel because travel is happening and it’s best that when it happens, it be safe.”
Kenney’s remarks at Thursday’s news conference in Edmonton come a day after he spoke to Albertans in a Facebook Live and said he believes the government needs to support safe travel during the pandemic and talked about studies pointing to how little risk is involved.
Watch below: After five days of not speaking publicly, Premier Jason Kenney addressed Albertans in an impromptu Facebook Live on Jan. 6 in which he expressed support for safe travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bindu Suri has details.
Since his government came under fire over several politicians ignoring an advisory to avoid non-essential travel, Kenney has spoken about how important it is for people to continue to travel during the pandemic so that airlines like Calgary-based WestJet don’t cease operations and to support the province’s tourism sector.
Kenney pointed out Thursday that at the beginning of the pandemic he criticized the federal government for not preventing international travellers from COVID-19 hot spots from entering the country. He said he later argued Alberta should emulate strategies employed by countries like Iceland and Austria to facilitate safe travel.
Kenney said he advised the federal government to require a recently obtained negative COVID-19 test from travellers before they enter Canada.
“I’m glad it is being instituted today,” he said. “Of course our government worked with the federal government of Canada to adopt the travel pilot program — which we did…. Based in part with the involvement and approval from the chief medical officer of both Alberta and of Canada… In fact we were just having a good conversation with the premiers and the prime minister about the success of that program.
“What I oppose (is) we’ve had people from the very beginning who want to shut absolutely everything down, regardless of the broader costs to people’s livelihoods, their mental and emotional health, their ability to care for their families and the long-term economic consequences — and there are some people who wanted to shut travel down. I think they’ve been mistaken.
“And indeed, recent studies conducted by Harvard University and the U.S. Department of Defence, both have indicated that air travel is typically a lower vector of transmission for COVID-19 with all the multiple layers of protection than in fact regular daily activities like shopping at a grocery store.”
Kenney want on to list all the safety precautions Alberta and Canada are requiring for air travel and described them as “a very strong set of layered protections to ensure safe travel.” He said he believes we live in a world where “travel must and will continue.”
The Alberta government’s website clearly states people should “avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.” For travel within Alberta, the government website offers a list of safety precautions a person can take “if you must travel.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that “the advice that my team and I have provided is to avoid non-essential travel.”
However, she advised that if people ignore that advice, they can take extra precautions by looking at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s advice on how to travel more safely and to ensure they understand the pandemic-related rules and requirements of the jurisdiction they plan to vacation in.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, said she believes people are “looking for cohesive messaging and if it seems contradictory, it can really undermine a lot of the messaging.”
“My preference would usually be we should all try to take the same line on things (like whether to promote air travel),” she said. “If we are travelling from a place right now, we still have very high active case rates and even people taking precautions are getting infected.
“Even if people taking precautions have been particular about their precautions on their way to travel, they still could be exporting disease to the place they are going and I actually really think that’s a terrible thing.”
Dr. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist, said “it’s not all about being on the airplane.”
He raised concerns about potential exposure to the novel coronavirus on the way to and from airports and during activities people engage in while on vacation. Furness also said visiting different areas raises the potential for people to be exposed to new variants of COVID-19.
“Every time an airplane lands, more COVID is likely coming into the province,” Furness said. “No province needs that right now, it’s just not necessary, not acceptable.”View link »