The WestJet Group is strongly opposing the travel advisory issued by the Government of Canada today (Dec. 15), saying it is “not based on science and data.”
Canada’s updated advice to avoid all non-essential travel “significantly undermines aviation’s proven safety record in response to COVID-19,” the company said, calling the measure a “setback in Canada’s progress and its successful transition from relying on blanket advisories and policies.”
“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, in the statement. “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.”
Taking questions from reporters today, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos couldn't state what evidence is guiding the decision to ban non-essential travel, specifically in terms of how such a measure will prevent community spread.
"The situation abroad is dire in many places and it's going to get worse very quickly," he said. "Once [travellers] have left Canada, there is very little we can do to help them."
Still, Duclos said the government is asking Canadians to "consider cancelling trips abroad.”
"We know this is difficult for airlines, for travel agencies, for families, for people who haven't been able to see each other for a long time. Who have been dreaming of getting together over the next few weeks."
The Minister added that things are getting "much more complicated, very quickly at a rate we couldn't have imagined a few weeks ago."
"We still know very little about the severity of Omicron in terms of the viral load, but what we do know is that the rate of spread is huge compared to Delta," he said, speaking in French.
The non-essential travel advisory will be in place for four weeks. After that period, the government will review the situation.
“We know this may sound very drastic to many listening, but we must avoid overloading our hospital system and our health care workers. I know we are all tired of this pandemic, but I must call on the solidarity of all Canadians,” Duclos said.
Out of step
International travel standards and policies should be harmonized, WestJet said, “yet Canada’s travel measures remain firmly out of step with border policies enacted across the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.”
The reinstated advisory also contradicts the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidance that states blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of COVID-19 and adversely affect lives and livelihoods, the company pointed out.
The airline said Ottawa should continue to focus on vaccinations and testing, “as the pathway for safe and fully-vaccinated international air travel must be preserved.”
“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.”
The WestJet Group has implemented its own measures in response to the pandemic including a zero-tolerance mask policy, enhancing health and safety measures, suspending sun flights and implementing the airline’s mandatory vaccination policy for employees and air travellers.