Canadians book vacations as COVID measures ease, border crossing becomes easier

Lisa Zeltzer has seen the number of COVID-19 cases rise over the winter and feared the March trip she had booked to New York – a vacation her theatre-loving son has been waiting for two years – might be cancelled.

As the Omicron wave began to subside last month and the federal government eased border measures for air travel in response, Zeltzer began to relax.

At least temporarily.

It’s easier for Canadians to take vacations they’ve postponed amid the pandemic now that rapid antigen tests can be used for back-to-school instead of molecular versions and quarantine requirements have ended for children traveling with fully vaccinated parents.

But as jurisdictions drop COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine passports, Zeltzers feel they need to be extra careful before boarding their spring break flight.

“Ironically, it makes me more anxious,” said Zeltzer, an occupational therapist in Toronto. “With the changes and restrictions (lifted) here… my biggest fear is that we have COVID before we leave.”

Zeltzer and her fully vaccinated family, which includes her husband, 10-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, set off on their packed five-day trip from Broadway to Manhattan the second week of March. Outside of local road trips, this will be their first vacation since before the pandemic.

Even though New York State lifted mask mandates in most indoor settings weeks ago, she said they still plan to wear N95 masks in the big city to mitigate any risk of infection. .

Testing positive for COVID-19 before returning home would mean having to extend the trip with a costly period of isolation.

“I’m afraid that because everyone is relaxing, our chances of getting it are higher and we’re going to be stuck in a very expensive city,” Zeltzer said.

While many Canadians remain anxious about travelling, in Georgetown, Ont., travel agent Lisa Gerlsbeck said she noticed a surge in the number of families booking vacations once the government announced its measures relaxed two weeks ago.

The changes – which included removing recommendations for Canadians to avoid travel for non-essential purposes and instead urging them to “take special precautions” – went into effect on Monday.

“The phone calls started coming in (immediately after the announcement),” said Gerlsbeck, a Florida family vacation specialist.

“People want to travel now. They don’t want to wait for the next March Break.”

Gerlsbeck said many of her customers were booking vacations for the first time since before the pandemic, including some who have postponed the same trips since March 2020. While she said some seem hesitant, many feel ready to get in a plane.

Gerlsbeck said these solidifying getaways were made easier by Canada’s relaxed rule for a back-to-school PCR test – noting that this posed a significant financial barrier for those traveling with large families. The rapid tests must be taken no earlier than a day before the planned flight and be administered by a professional, specify the new measures.

The end of the quarantine rule for unvaccinated children returning to the country has motivated others to travel.

Dianna McKechnie, a mother of two young children and a teacher in Burlington, Ont., booked a trip to Arizona to see her family over March Break “immediately” after hearing about the relaxed rules. Quarantining with the two- and four-year-olds after the holidays would be difficult for McKechnie and her husband, who both work outside the home.

Many of McKechnie’s relatives have yet to meet her children, as the family has not crossed the border for two years.

She expressed doubts about the trip, especially given Arizona’s more relaxed attitude towards COVID-19, but said the family mainly plans to stay at her uncle’s house and spend time together in the sun. burning in the desert.

“I’m just going to conduct myself as I’m comfortable (with it),” she said. “I think there’s a lot of COVID out there, and it’s very polarized in terms of people following restrictions or not.”

Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease pediatrician and faculty member at the University of Toronto, said she understands the travel itch some Canadians feel.

But she warns that with many places limiting testing, it’s hard to know how much of the virus is circulating in Canada and elsewhere.

Banerji said an increase in international travel could lead to an increase in cases across Canada, especially as the timing of spring break travel coincides with other easing measures. But vaccination coverage and immunity to recent Omicron infections should help mitigate the severity of a potential wave that is approaching, she added.

“The government said, ‘OK, we’re lifting the restrictions’, so you can’t say, ‘Don’t travel’. … And people probably made up their minds, anyway, thinking that the COVID n It’s not a risk,” Banerji said.

“It may be less risky to some extent, but it’s still a risk.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 2, 2022.

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