When the federal government announced in early July that fully vaccinated Canadians travelling abroad can skip quarantine upon their return home, some travel-starved people started making vacation plans.
But travelling abroad during the pandemic is still complicated — and not yet recommended by the government.
Here’s what you should know before planning your long-awaited trip.
Should I stay or should I go?
Since the start of the pandemic, the government has advised against non-essential travel abroad.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CBC News it loosened restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers because Canada’s COVID-19 situation has improved. But PHAC says the government still advises against international travel, because some countries currently have high infection rates and COVID-19 variants remain a concern.
PHAC also warns that travellers could face problems if their international destination suddenly imposes a lockdown.
“Canadians may be forced to remain outside of Canada longer than expected,” spokesperson Anne Génier said in an email. “Canadians should not depend on the Government of Canada for assistance related to changes to their travel plans.”
Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine suggests Canadians consider the COVID-19 situation both at home and at their destination before making travel plans.
“We have to be very careful,” said Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan. “There are many places in the world where COVID-19 is still very much a threat.”
Muhajarine was set to fly to Mozambique this fall to work on a community health project. But he said he decided to cancel his trip because both Mozambique and his home province currently have high COVID-19 infection rates.
“We are in the middle of a fourth wave, a delta variant wave in Saskatchewan,” said Muhajarine. “I don’t think that even though I’m fully vaccinated, I should be travelling.”
Mixed vaccine woes
Like Canada, many countries now allow fully vaccinated travellers to skip pandemic-related entry requirements, such as a mandatory quarantine and/or a COVID-19 test.
But travellers need to make sure the COVID-19 vaccine they received is accepted in the country they plan to visit.
Some countries also don’t recognize people with mixed vaccine doses as being fully vaccinated, a potential problem for the millions of Canadians who received shots of two different vaccines.
Canada says it’s working with other countries to resolve these differences.
And there’s been progress. Barbados, England and Northern Ireland recently changed their policies to now accept mixed doses. However, neighbouring Republic of Ireland still does not.
“We are hoping that this will change very soon,” Tourism Ireland spokesperson Jocelyn Black told CBC News in an email.
The United States currently doesn’t recognize mixed doses. That position sparked concerns when the U.S. announced last month that, starting in early November, foreign air passengers entering the country must be fully vaccinated.
“I feel blindsided,” said Ingrid Whyte of Toronto. She and her husband, John, each have one dose of COVISHIELD (a brand of AstraZeneca) and a second dose of Pfizer.
The snowbirds are booked to fly to Florida on Nov. 17, but now they’re worried they might not be able to enter the U.S. due to their mixed vaccines.
“We don’t really know what to make of the situation,” said Whyte.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told CBC News this week it’s still hammering out the details of the upcoming vaccination requirement for air travellers, including the list of approved vaccines.
“CDC is actively working with vaccine experts regarding which vaccinations will be accepted,” spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in an email
She said the CDC will provide more information in the coming weeks.
Rather than waiting it out, Whyte wants to resolve her problem now by getting a third vaccine dose, so she would have two doses of the same vaccine.
“We’re running out of time,” she said.
However, Ontario doesn’t provide third doses to travellers. The province said it’s following federal guidelines that currently only recommend giving third doses to certain people with compromised immune systems.
Despite the recommendation, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta each offer third vaccine doses to people in their province who need it for travel.
Nova Scotia says it will start offering third doses on Oct. 15 to people who need it to travel for work.
What about travel insurance?
Travellers can now get COVID-19 medical coverage, but that won’t cover all pandemic-related problems.
Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said it’s possible to get cancellation coverage in case you get COVID-19 and must cancel your trip. But he said you likely won’t be covered if you cancel your plans for other pandemic-related reasons, because COVID-19 is now a “known” problem.
“If your reason is going to be because of a shutdown, a fifth wave or sixth wave or seventh wave, you’re out of luck,” said Firestone, who works for Travel Secure in Toronto.
He also warns that some COVID-19 medical coverage plans don’t include costs incurred if you must stay longer at your destination due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Firestone said that type of coverage, known as trip interruption insurance, typically includes a daily cap, so, even if you purchase it, you may not be covered for all your expenses.
“You could be staying at a $1,000-a-day hotel, that does not mean they’re going to cover your costs at the hotel for 14 days,” he said. “All that any of these products could do would be to offset some of your costs.”
Canada still advises against all cruise ship travel. As a result, many insurance providers won’t offer COVID-19 medical coverage for cruise ship passengers.
Will McAleer, executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, says at least a couple of providers offer this type of coverage for vaccinated travellers — and no cruise ship passenger should leave home without it.
“If I get sick, I could be talking about a helicopter air evacuation off of the front of the ship at sea to a port, to an air ambulance, to a centre that can look after me,” he said. “So it could be quite complicated and costly.”
MacAleer said all travellers need to do careful research before purchasing their insurance plan to make sure they have the right protection during the pandemic.
“Shopping [around] is the key for consumers at this point.”