We need to stop international travel

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A lot of hot air has been blown by politicians in the last few months about lockdown restrictions. That shouldn’t be news to anyone, it’s all literally unavoidable. 

If you were to judge the government’s response to the pandemic based solely on the near-daily press briefings from our leaders (as many often do) then you’d think they have a complete handle on this COVID-19 stuff, right? Well, think again.

One of the most baffling things to me and so many others has been the fact that international flights are still allowed to enter Canada.

While the recent announcements have addressed those going to Mexico and the Caribbean, there is absolutely no reason to allow air travel to continue, period. Before anyone starts saying, “but what if”, I have seen the lists of people that have not been ‘discouraged’ (whatever that means) from travelling and of course I’m not talking about those people. There are many people flying across the country doing important work, particularly in relation to COVID-19, those people are not who I’m talking about. My sights are set on the non-essential (and non-essential-essential) folks.

According to an article published by CTV News, 91 per cent of air travellers were expected to quarantine upon arrival in Canada. Those 9 per cent who were exempt were almost entirely essential workers, like the air crews.

But that 91 per cent who was “expected” to quarantine upon arrival is important, because we also know that many of them have simply ignored that and only a few have faced penalties for it. Police across the country have been overrun with calls concerning people who are not following the Quarantine Act, to a point where they simply can’t keep up. The worst part is, those are only the ones that are coming up on the government’s radar.

Recently Premier Ford established testing capacity at Pearson International Airport, the only airport in Ontario able to accept international flights, but this still leaves us vulnerable. We can’t rely on human resources and capacity that we don’t have to protect us from international COVID-19 variants. The only fool proof response is to stop unnecessary flights altogether. 

I understand that most of that falls outside of provincial jurisdiction, but don’t think just because I mention Ford that the Trudeau government is off the hook for this. For a long time Trudeau was simply running his mouth like Ford, while only promising further restrictions sometime in the future. 

That of course changed last week, as the government did finally introduce some additional measures to restrict international travel. While it’s too early to discuss their effect, they do look promising. However, I am worried about the influence that the airlines may have on these types of restrictions going forward.

Canadian airlines have been begging and pleading to allow passenger flights to continue to be allowed because, ‘transmission from travel is low’, but if you consider that for even a second it really doesn’t fly (pun intended).

For starters, to say that transmission from international travellers is low is pretty rich, given that, as I pointed out before, the system has been unable to properly enforce the Quarantine Act, let alone contract trace those who come here who are positive. Contract tracing has become impossible to keep up with all across Canada, so whatever data they are pulling to support this is spurious at best.

Then there’s also the fact that, because they are private corporations, they have no incentive to do what’s best for public health. What do I mean by this? Well let me explain it with a hypothetical. Given the tough time that airlines have faced due to the pandemic, how interested do you think they are in not allowing someone on a flight because they couldn’t produce a negative test within 72 hours, when they could just look the other way? While this is just a hypothetical, the incentive certainly is there.

The best part is that on top of protesting any further restrictions on international travel, they are asking for more government bailout money. While I can respect that there have been thousands of airline employees that have been laid off as a result of COVID-19, the answer certainly isn’t to keep throwing money at these corporations. What could they possibly do with this money? Well for starters, they could continue to offer these risky flights, they could lobby the government to weaken future restrictions or they could even try and fight these travel restrictions in court. Not a great use of tax dollars if you ask me.

If anything, the pandemic provides a perfect opportunity to get Air Canada back into the government’s hands and to take massive equity stakes in other airlines too.

With the arrival of multiple COVID-19 variants in the last couple of days, the need to stop international travel as soon as possible could not be more dire. I for one am not interested in staying in lockdown forever because our government is too feckless to stop inconsiderate people from taking personal trips and rich executives from jet-setting across the globe during a pandemic. Enough is enough.