More COVID-19 measures need lifting: travel sector

People wait in line to check in at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Thursday, May 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette





People wait in line to check in at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Thursday, May 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ottawa’s suspension of randomized COVID-19 testing at customs marks a “big step” toward clearing clogged terminals, but more measures are needed to end airport gridlock, the head of the Canadian Airports Council says.

Monette Pasher said wait times and tarmac delays for arriving flights at large airports improved immediately after the move went into effect Saturday,

“We’re very encouraged by the news. It’s a big step forward in addressing the delay issues,” she said in an interview Monday.

“But there’s still a lot more work to do, as there were still gate holds, albeit for shorter periods of time. In our business we never want to see people waiting on the tarmac.”

On Friday, Ottawa announced it would pause molecular tests of inbound international passengers selected at random, and that mandatory rapid tests for unvaccinated arrivals will happen off-site starting July 1.

The airports council and other industry groups are now calling for an end to vaccine mandates for passengers and aviation employees, saying that hundreds more workers could be back on the job amid a labour crunch.

The government continues to bar most unvaccinated foreigners from entry and require unvaccinated Canadians to quarantine for 14 days when they return.

After laying off security personnel during pandemic, Ottawa said the country’s airport security agency has hired 865 screening officers since April, with more to come as Canada’s four largest airports gird for a 50 per cent rise in traveller numbers within weeks.

As of June 1, those hubs were processing an average of 56,000 inbound passengers from abroad each day — more than half of them at Toronto’s Pearson airport, where scenes of endless queues and traveller frustration played out in social media posts and news reports through much of the spring. The figure will hit 80,000 within weeks, the airports council forecasts.

“People can expect longer wait times in summer, but we shouldn’t see anything like we’ve seen the past month. I think we’re getting over that hurdle,” Pasher said.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable welcomed Ottawa’s latest rollback, but was not quite so optimistic on its impact.

“Domestically, Canada’s travel rules are hurting small businesses, unfairly impacting families looking to enjoy the summer travel season and forcing the cancellation of conferences and events that help power local economies,” the roundtable, made up of industry groups, said in a statement Friday.

The testing pause comes at the same time the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the government would drop COVID-19 tests as a requirement for entry — a measure Canada has already phased out.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2022.



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