Canada’s latest move to limit inbound flights to four airports as it seeks to curb the spread of COVID-19 from leisure travel, is spilling over to business trips and fueling uncertainty which could delay economic recovery, industry executives said.
Canada, which already has some of the world’s toughest air travel and quarantine rules, is bringing in new restrictions aimed at people returning from overseas vacations.
Passengers arriving from abroad face new requirements such as mandatory airport COVID-19 tests and hotel quarantines for up to three days, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week.
While those rules have not yet gone into effect, their planned introduction is creating uncertainty among essential business travelers who are normally exempt from quarantines.
“This kind of approach with business travel is going to hamper our efforts to rebound,” said Anthony Norejko, president of the Canadian Business Aviation Association.
The CBAA has asked Transport Canada to exempt certain operators of corporate aircraft from smaller cities from having to land in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver when flying for essential business because it adds extra costs and time.
“We understand that the new requirements can create inconveniences and frustration for some travelers, but we are putting in place those requirements to protect the health of all Canadians,” Transport Canada said in a statement.
Manitoba hog processor HyLife last week grounded flights to Minnesota, where it owns a plant, opting instead for the nine-hour drive each way, said Chief Executive Officer Grant Lazaruk.
Lazaruk said the company still doesn’t know all the implications of the new rules, but said it would make little sense to fly between Minnesota and Winnipeg via Calgary.
Canada’s airlines have suspended flights to sunspots through April 30 amid fears that variants of novel coronavirus could spread during spring break.
One Canada-based charter service executive said on condition of anonymity that his traffic, already down about 30% due to the pandemic, has dived 70% on an annual basis since the announcement of new government requirements.
“Business travel is dead,” he said.
A Public Health Agency of Canada spokesman had no further details about the rules, but pointed to a federal government press conference on COVID-19 later on Friday for some clarity.
Matt Poirier, director, trade policy for Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said his members are concerned over the lack of clear rules, especially because border agents have some discretion in determining whether a traveler is considered essential.
For example, Canadians returning after doing a one-time job in the U.S. would likely have to quarantine, but could be exempt if they went back and forth for work.
“There is hesitation to travel, even though they have an exemption,” Poirier said.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg)