By Allison Lampert and Rod Nickel
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada’s move to limit inbound flights to four major airports as it seeks to curb the spread of COVID-19 from leisure travel is spilling over to business trips and fueling uncertainty which could delay economic recovery, industry executives said.
Canada, which already has some of the world’s toughest travel and quarantine rules, plans to introduce restrictions such as mandatory airport COVID-19 tests and hotel quarantines for up to three days.
Directing flights to four airports — Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver — which started Thursday, has created headaches for some companies in smaller cities.
Separately, the hotel quarantines, which were announced last week but await the drafting of formal rules, are creating uncertainty among essential business travelers who normally do not have to self-isolate.
“This kind of approach with business travel is going to hamper our efforts to rebound,” said Anthony Norejko, president of the Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA).
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Friday that Canada was looking at ways to further strengthen its land border with the United States, which has been shut to non-essential travel for almost a year, but gave no details.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told a separate briefing that “commercial truckers will remain exempt to ensure that supply chains, essential services and support for critical infrastructure are not adversely affected.”
The CBAA has asked Transport Canada to exempt certain corporate aircraft operators flying for essential business to smaller Canadian cities from having to land at a major airport like Toronto due to the extra costs and time.
“We understand that the new requirements can create inconveniences and frustration for some travelers, but we are putting in place those requirements to protect the health of all Canadians,” Transport Canada said.
Manitoba hog processor HyLife last week grounded flights to Minnesota, where it owns a plant, opting instead for the nine-hour drive each way, said Chief Executive Officer Grant Lazaruk.
Lazaruk said the company still doesn’t know all the implications of the new rules, but said it would make little sense to fly between Minnesota and Winnipeg via Calgary.
One Canada-based charter service executive said on condition of anonymity that his traffic, already down about 30% due to the pandemic, has dived 70% on an annual basis since the announcement of new government requirements.
“Business travel is dead,” he said.
Matt Poirier, director, trade policy for Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said his members are concerned by the lack of clear rules, especially because border agents have some discretion in determining whether a traveler is considered essential.
They are waiting for formal details from Canada on the new testing and hotel quarantine requirements.
“There is hesitation to travel, even though they have an exemption,” Poirier said.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)