Canada is facing the second winter holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic, with what now looks to be an even more transmissible variant spreading.
Nazeem Muhajarine said it’s fine to still travel if you’re taking the proper safeguards to ensure “that you are not bringing any unwelcome guests, like Omicron” with you.
He also said the ability to travel should not make anyone think the Omicron variant isn’t serious.
“We need to recognize that this is a threatening situation that is looming, that is moving in our direction.”
In terms of staying safe, he said all travellers — as well as guests and hosts — should be fully vaccinated. And he said everyone should get their booster shots as soon as possible.
On top of that, all travellers should wear a mask when travelling and when around anyone with an unknown vaccination status. He said people should avoid others if they don’t know their vaccination status.
Small indoor gatherings with an open window are best, if you don’t want to meet outside. And anyone travelling should use rapid antigen tests before they leave and after they arrive to ensure they haven’t become infected with the virus.
“Omicron is probably circulating in our province,” he said.
“It will be a matter of days and weeks before we start to see that (in case numbers and infections). Now is the time to act.”
For Carly Greschuk, acting means staying home.
“You never know if you’re making the right decision,” she said, describing taking her two children to an indoor holiday festival on Sunday.
“Now, with another variant out there, it’s almost like starting from scratch again.”
Both her kids are too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and she’s immunocompromised.
For the second winter holiday season, they’re not travelling to see family and staying home, where it’s safer.
“My two-year-old has never really had a full family Christmas,” she said, “because he was a COVID baby.”
She and her husband cancelled their plans to go to Edmonton after the WHO declared the omicron variant to be a variant of concern.
The previous 20 months has been hard, she said, and they’ve made sacrifices to keep they children safe.
Greschuk postponed a year of school so she could stay home to take care of her children and to help limit the family’s contact.
That caution may have caused other families to stay home over the holidays, too.
Andy Gibbons, vice-president with WestJet for government relations, told Global News some customers were deferring their travel in December — traditionally one of the busiest times for air travel in the year.
He didn’t provide specific data about the postponed flights, stating it’s commercially sensitive.
(Global News also reached out to Air Canada and a spokesperson provided the same response via email. Flair Air said in an email it is seeing strong bookings across the country this holiday season but didn’t quantify that statement.)
“But we’re also seeing people asking questions and staying with their bookings,” Gibbons said, speaking from Ottawa.
He told Global News flights in and out of the province have rebounded somewhat from the nearly-70 per cent drop off during the pandemic, buoyed by the federal policy only permitting fully vaccinated people on planes.
“People can be confident that when they get on one of our planes, whether they’re headed to Puerto Vallarta or Calgary or Vancouver or Toronto, everyone in that aircraft is vaccinated,” he said.
What air travellers really need, he added, is more information about the Omicron variant and federal travel restrictions and testing guidelines.
Justin Reves, customer experience manager with the Regina International Airport, said airport staff are fielding more questions about the procedures in place.
He said traffic at the airport is down 47 per cent from December 2019. But that’s still an increase from last November.
He said he’s expecting a busy December even with Omicron variant “because it’s been really early and there is unknowns, but I think people are still hopeful that things will turn out reasonably well.”
But not Greschuk.
She said they may travel in January after the rush, but they’re staying home for now.
“I’m just glad that we’re all here to celebrate and that we can celebrate at some capacity this year.”