As the federal government issues another blanket warning against non-essential international travel, citing the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, some Canadians are beginning to re-think their holiday travel plans.
Tracy Lamourie, a public relations consultant based in Hamilton, Ont., says she’s unsure whether she’s going to cancel hers and her mother’s trip to Malta in January after officials announced Wednesday that Canadians — regardless of vaccination status — should avoid all non-essential travel.
Lamourie says she and her mother have already been vaccinated and aren’t scared of contracting the virus, but are frightened more by the possibility of being stranded abroad as Canada and other nations begin to clamp down on international travel.
“I mean, as much as I love the Mediterranean, I don’t want to be stuck there and not be able to get home,” said Lamourie.
“So yeah, it’s a little bit hard to make plans.”
Lamourie’s concerns come as Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the new travel advisory Wednesday amid a global rise in Omicron infections, including in Canada.
“To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly, now is not the time to travel,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a press conference.
“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst for Canadians that may think of travelling. Travelling Canadians could contract the virus, or get stranded abroad.”
The warning comes as cases of Omicron, which scientists have pointed to as being more highly contagious, climb around the world — especially in the U.K. and Denmark, which have similar vaccination rates as Canada.
Preliminary evidence has suggested that the variant, which contains dozens of mutations, does not lower the efficacy of vaccines and their ability to prevent people from suffering severe outcomes after contracting COVID-19.
And while the federal advisory remains just that — an advisory and not a ban on travelling abroad or within Canada — Lamourie and other Canadians are anxiously waiting to see the possibility of renewed global travel restrictions in the wake of the variants’ spread.
It’s a possibility that Miri Blum says she wasn’t going to take at all, going so far as to cancel her entire family’s vacation to Europe right after the federal advisory was issued.
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Blum said that while it was still just a recommendation from the government at the end of the day, her family’s worries were also comprised of the anxiety of being left abroad without a way home — which was the case for thousands of travellers at the start of the pandemic.
“A lot of people are going to cancel and (if) our flight gets cancelled — our flight home — I don’t … want to be stranded there,” she said.
“That was the main consideration for us.”
Canadian travellers who made the decision to cancel their holiday plans were not the only ones left reeling on Wednesday after the federal announcement.
Canada’s tourism, travel and hospitality sectors were particularly devastated by the pandemic, and were seeing an uneasy recovery over the last several months — a recovery that Omicron threatens to disrupt.
WestJet CEO Harry Taylor criticized the government’s advisory, telling The Canadian Press that it would create “unnecessary disruption and chaos” for travellers during the holiday season.
“Fully vaccinated Canadians should not be singled out for choosing to take part in a safe activity,” said Taylor in a statement to the Press.
“Travel bans, restrictions and blanket advisories are devastating to the continued economic recovery of the country and place tens of thousands of recently recalled Canadian travel and tourism jobs at risk.”
Air Transport Association of Canada CEO John McKenna told the Canadian Press that thousands of customers have already cancelled their bookings, and that the decline in international trips would also start a slowdown in regional and domestic travel.
“They’re cancelling because they don’t know what to expect when they come back,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Press
“I think they’re more afraid of the bureaucracy than of Omicron.”
And even ahead of the federal government’s announcement Wednesday, travel and tourism companies were already reporting steep declines in sales and spikes in cancellations globally.
On Tuesday, Trivago reported that their cancellation rates had increased to 35 per cent since November, and that their holiday travel planning had decreased by 10 per cent, Reuters reported.
According to travel website Kayak, Canadians’ international flight searches took a steep decline of about 35 per cent in late November.
Ontarian Jessica Trickey, however, said that she’s not going to be among those cancelling their travel plans over fears of contracting Omicron.
Trickey has a daughter travelling to France on Thursday to see her father, while she, her son and boyfriend are hopping on a plane to Cuba on Friday.
And while she says she and her family have done their part by getting vaccinated, masking and abiding by local public health measures, she feels frustrated by the government’s travel advisory — and the added difficulty for fully-vaccinated Canadians wanting to travel because of it.
According to Trickey, two of her previous trips have already been cancelled since the start of the pandemic due to lockdowns and a previous travel advisory.
“So all of our trips have been cancelled so far,” she said. “I was like, ‘I’m done. We are going — unless someone is forcefully pulling me off this plane, I need this, you need this, everybody needs this. I don’t care.’
“I just I’m at the point where I think every Canadian is personally sick and tired of all the lockdowns. Like, you have to look at people’s mental health — there’s more suicidal ideation from kids my daughter’s age now than ever before because of all these lockdowns.”