Air Canada calls on Ottawa to ease 14-day quarantine rules

Alicja Siekierska
REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Air Canada is calling on the federal government to ease restrictions that force travellers to quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Canada.

The airline (AC.TO) released a letter on Wednesday addressed to Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu, urging the government to “consider a science-based approach” to easing travel restrictions prescribed under the Quarantine Act.

Last month, the federal government extended the emergency order that outlines mandatory quarantine rules for all travellers entering Canada until Aug. 31. Under the Quarantine Act, anyone entering Canada by air, land or sea will be required to isolate for 14 days if they have COVID-19 or suspect they do. Those without signs or symptoms of the virus will have to quarantine for 14 days.

Air Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Jim Chung said the government should replace the quarantine restrictions “with more proportionate, evidence-based measures that can achieve public health objectives, while causing less detriment to other public interests and allowing for a measured restart of aviation, similar to what is occurring in other countries.”

“Canada has made virtually no change to its quarantine restrictions since mid-March, despite continuing improvements containing the spread of the virus both in our country and in many others,” Chung wrote in the letter.

“This is severely impacting Air Canada, our customers and employees as well as an overall recovery. Moreover, there are many other interests affected by the quarantine restrictions – not only jobs and pensions, but also the social and economic wellbeing of individuals and communities that rely on air travel, as well as basic freedoms of mobility.”

Chung wrote that the government should consider exempting travellers from low-risk countries from the Quarantine Act “on the basis that these countries would pose no greater risk to Canadians than inter-provincial travel.” Some countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, have adopted a similar approach and introduced “travel corridor exemptions” where travellers are not required to self-isolate upon arrival.

Air Canada included a potential list of 56 exempt destinations, based on the United Kingdom’s list, attached to Chung’s letter. Some of the destinations on the list include the Bahamas, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan. The United States was not included.

“To be clear, given the current challenges in the United States in controlling the virus, we are not proposing relaxing the U.S. border restrictions at this time,” Chung said.

Airlines around the world have been grappling with weak demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even as economies reopen and lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Air Canada recently resumed the sale of middle seats, which had previously been blocked in an effort to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Last month, the airline suspended service on 30 domestic routes and closed operations at eight regional airports.

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