travel advisory

WestJet slams Canada's travel advisory and asks government to provide data

Canada has reinstated its advisory against all non-essential international travel but WestJet is having none of it.

The travel advisory, which just lifted in October, went back into effect on Dec. 15 as COVID-19 case counts spiked. Canada's Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos had a stern warning: "Now is not the time to travel."

But WestJet Group put out a swift reply "expressing its strong opposition to the travel advisory issued by the Government of Canada."

The airline says the travel advisory is "not based on science and data and significantly undermines aviation's proven safety record in response to COVID-19."

"These measures are a setback in Canada's progress and its successful transition from relying on blanket advisories and policies," WestJet's statement reads.

"Air travel is the most tested and protected consumer activity in Canada, every person travelling internationally is tested on average twice throughout their travel journey," said Harry Taylor, WestJet President and CEO.

"As the only fully-vaccinated air travel sector in the world, WestJet is calling on the government to publicly share the travel related COVID-19 data that has been used to re-impose the advisory and advice targeted towards fully-vaccinated Canadians and the travel and tourism industry."

The travel advisory came just before Canada recorded its 30,000th COVID-19 death, and cases in Ontario reached 2,241. The Ontario Science Table suggests the province goes beyond current measures and is calling for a "circuit-breaker."

How risky is flying?

Just a few days ago, epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine told Global News travel can be safe, even with the new variant but everyone should be fully vaccinated, get their booster shot and wear a mask.

Many studies find that the risk of contracting COVID-19 while flying is very low, the New York Times found, but those studies have "limitations."

There is no evidence of flights causing super-spreading events but there have been cases linked to flying. In a flight from Dubai to New Zealand, one man passed the virus on to seven (all sitting nearby) of the 86 passengers, despite having worn masks and gloves.

Experts agree that the air on flights is filtered well. Most planes have high-efficiency H.E.P.A. filters that can trap 99.97 percent of particles that are at least 0.3 microns in size.

But filtering the air is not enough, some researchers argue airlines should be implementing physical distancing policies — such as leaving middle seats open.

WestJet, however, says Canada's travel advisory, contradicts WHO's guidance.

"Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the WHO says in a Nov. 30 statement. However, that statement came in response to countries prohibiting the arrival of international travellers from Southern African countries.

WestJet suggests the Government of Canada continue to focus on vaccinations and testing.

"Since the onset of the pandemic, we have safely flown more than seven million guests and air travel has been commended for its commitment to safety. Fully-vaccinated Canadians should not be singled-out for choosing to take part in a safe activity," said Taylor.

"Travel bans, restrictions and blanket advisories are devastating to the continued economic recovery of our country and place tens of thousands of recently recalled Canadian travel and tourism jobs at risk. We are very concerned today's announcement will create unnecessary disruption and chaos in advance of the holiday travel season."

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