Is Travel Restricted Within Canada During The COVID-19 Pandemic? It’s Complicated.

·5 min read

Right about now, a lot of Canadians probably dream of getting away, travelling somewhere and seeing the world. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we could all use a vacation.

But international summer vacations are off the table. Flights are grounded, borders are mostly closed, and it could be awhile before they open back up again.

In early May, international air travel was running at around 90 per cent less capacity than before the pandemic hit, according to Statistics Canada, and the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel for the foreseeable future. So for Canadians looking to get away for a day, weekend or longer, staying within our borders is the only choice.

Add on the federal government reopening 29 of its 48 national parks on June 1, and it makes sense that Canadians might be tempted to get out in the true north strong and free.

But should you?

Here’s what you should consider before planning your big Canadian vacation in the age of COVID-19.

Case rates are widely different from province to province

And the divide is growing larger by the day.

Provinces have instituted measures throughout the pandemic to limit inter-provincial travel.

A car drives through Banff National Park in Alberta. (Photo: YinYang via Getty Images)
A car drives through Banff National Park in Alberta. (Photo: YinYang via Getty Images)

The Atlantic provinces have largely cracked down on non-essential travel in and out of their borders. Newfoundland and Labrador implemented a travel ban in early May barring anyone but permanent residents and workers in essential sectors from entering the province. Meanwhile, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have implemented check-points at major entry points to stop and question people about their health and risk of exposure. Prince Edward Island is closed to non-residents as well.

All three territories, which have largely seen limited COVID-19 cases , have maintained strict borders as well. Nunavut is even insisting all people entering the territory undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Saskatchewan hasn’t closed its border, but the government issued an order in April that restricts all non-essential travel into the province’s northern communities. And Manitoba was among the first provinces to check people at the border.

There’s a whole bunch of things that we can do right here in British Columbia. B.C. Premier John Horgan

Many provinces, including Ontario and B.C., still have recommendations that individuals self-isolate for 14 days when coming from somewhere else. It’s not a requirement like with international travel, but it is still encouraged,

There’s already evidence of a cluster of new cases sparked by a single doctor who travelled to New Brunswick, a province with incredibly low case rates, from Quebec. At least 12 new cases, including a long-term care home worker, have been traced to the doctor.

New Brunswick has delayed its planned second stage of reopening in response to the outbreak. And that’s all just from one person travelling across a provincial border.

Many provincial health authorities are encouraging people to stick closer to home if they are going out for leisure time. Provinces, including B.C. and Saskatchewan, have limited provincial camping reservations to residents only in an attempt to discourage people from crossing provincial borders.

B.C.’s reservations site was overwhelmed when it opened earlier this week, something B.C. chief public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said was a good sign that people are sticking closer to home.


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″[It is] a reflection that we are taking to heart the need to stay close to home this summer and to experience all the many beautiful places in our province,” she said.

Henry said she was looking forward to visiting Whistler or B.C.’s gulf islands when she had the chance.

During his weekly address last week, Premier John Horgan also encouraged B.C. residents to get out within the province.

“Going to the Interior and enjoying cherry season is something I would very much like to do,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of things that we can do right here in British Columbia.”

They’re even different regionally

But that doesn’t even mean it’s the same level of risk everywhere in every province.

In Ontario, the numbers are particularly stark. The Greater Toronto Area accounts for more than 76 per cent of Ontario’s confirmed cases since May 1.

And in B.C., while cases have been confirmed across the province, the vast majority of test-positive cases are currently centred in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley areas.

So if you’re travelling from the GTA to cottage country, or Vancouver to the interior, you very well could be bringing the virus with you.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, say experts, but you should follow the advice of public health officials, think critically about where you’re travelling, why you are and who you’re seeing.

But do people even want to travel?

Preliminary numbers show maybe not.

According to a report from RBC on consumer behaviour, 68 per cent of Canadians said they are unlikely to take a vacation this year. And while 62 per cent prefer to stay in Canada, 63 per cent say they would rather drive than fly, certainly limiting options to travel cross-country.

According to Statistics Canada, about 80 per cent of tourism spending in Canada usually comes from domestic travel, but that spending is down 60 per cent from this time last year.

And the current economic situation and unemployment numbers suggest many Canadians don’t even have the expendable income to be travelling domestically. Almost two million jobs were lost in Canada in April.

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