Signage for a new COVID-19 screening centre is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Friday, February 19, 2021. The centre is being set up to allow for the new testing requirements coming into effect Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Signage for a new COVID-19 screening centre is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Friday, February 19, 2021. The centre is being set up to allow for the new testing requirements coming into effect Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

New rules appear to push international air travel down even further than pre-pandemic

Latest change requires incoming travellers to quarantine in specified hotels

Canada’s new COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules for international air travellers appear to have convinced even more would-be travellers to stay put in recent weeks.

In the last two weeks of January international arrivals fell to 106,000 people, and in the first two weeks of February, the figure fell further to 94,000 people, according to data from Canada Border Services Agency.

The drop in international arrivals in early February is about four times the decline seen between early January and early February in 2019 and 2020.

It came after Ottawa started making all international air travellers show proof of negative COVID-19 tests before boarding their planes.

Since Feb. 22, international air travellers also must quarantine in specified hotels for three days after landing, pending the results of second COVID-19 tests.

“That’s a very strong disincentive for people to fly,” said John Gradek, an aviation expert and McGill University lecturer. “They scared everybody with a $2,000 bill for those three days.”

The government began musing about the quarantines in January but didn’t confirm the details until Feb. 12. CBSA data doesn’t yet reflect what impact that may have had.

Reports of 10-hour phone waits to book a room and overcrowded hotels with delayed meal service have only added to the disincentive since the quarantine rule took effect Feb. 22.

“It appears that it’s just running totally out of control,” said Marty Firestone, president of Travel Secure, a Toronto-based company that specializes in travel insurance.

“The whole thing is not only a logistical nightmare, but it’s turning into just, well, a nightmare.”

He said the quarantine is pushing snowbirds to delay their return or to make plans to fly to a border city such as Buffalo, N.Y., and cross into Canada by land — typically via car rental — to avoid being holed up in a hotel. The quarantine applies only to air travellers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and national public health officials began urging Canadians to avoid international travel last March as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading rapidly around the globe.

By the end of March they started barring most non-citizens or permanent residents from travelling here for purposes that aren’t considered essential — such as helping with the pandemic or truck drivers bringing in supplies.

The impact was relatively swift and massive, with international arrivals falling from an average of about 780,000 a week in April and May 2019, to fewer than 20,000 a week in 2020.

While air travel did start to tick up in the summer, and rose even further in December, overall it has consistently remained less than 10 per cent of what it was in previous years.

There was a small increase after Christmas, with almost 170,000 people arriving in Canada by air between Dec. 28 and Jan. 10.

That compares with about 128,000 between Dec. 14 and Dec. 27.

READ MORE: Long wait times, lack of options frustrate travellers booking hotel quarantines

— With files from Christopher Reynolds

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

The Dease Lake Airport is receiving $11-million in upgrades funded by the province, Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and mining companies. (British Columbia Aviation Council)
Major upgrades coming to Dease Lake Airport

Airport to receive $11-million from the province, regional district and mining companies

Dianna Plouffe, right, with Mayor Gladys Atrill in front of Town Hall following the announcement she will be the new CAO> (Facebook photo)
Director of corporate services named Smithers CAO

Dianna Plouffe replaces Alan Harris who is retiring at the end of April

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read