While the Canadian government has been discouraging non-essential travel from the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have still had the freedom to fly to sand and sun destinations, at their own risk.
And this includes Canada’s snowbird community – retirees, primarily, who make the annual winter migration south to sun-soaked U.S. states like Florida, Arizona, Texas, California, and Hawaii, as well as regions in Mexico and even Costa Rica.
While the risks and logistics associated with travelling abroad amid the coronavirus crisis has certainly forced some snowbirds to stay put this season, research suggests that some were still willing to forge ahead with their plans.
In a November 2020 survey conducted by Snowbird Advisor, more than 40 per cent of Canadian snowbirds said they would not be travelling this winter, while slightly more that 30 per cent said they were definitely going away for all (or part) of winter.
Flocking to sunnier parts may have seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, despite government warnings, the lift to southern destinations was there for the taking.
But now, this devoted community of sun-seekers faces a new hurdle: what to do now that Canada has unveiled tougher travel rules that, very soon, will require international arrivals to quarantine at a hotel for a minimum of three days at a reported cost of $2,000.
According to several media reports, some Canadian snowbirds are going to wait it out by extending their stay until federal restrictions ease up. (Which, at this stage of the game, is unknown as the rules could be extended).
The $2,000 price tag for staying in a hotel for three nights is “ridiculous,” as Florida-based snowbird Claudine Durand, 50, of Lachine, Que., told CBC News.
Still, some snowbirds are reportedly rushing home to Canada before the hotel quarantine policy officially kicks in.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Friday, left it as something that will start “in the coming weeks.” Although, new reports suggest the rules could kick in as soon as Feb. 4.
It’s also unclear as to what will become of the Canada-U.S. land border.
Some snowbirds had their cars or RVs shipped into the U.S. by cargo trucks and, in some cases, flew into the country by helicopter to pick up their vehicles and drive south.
(Despite the land border being closed, flying between the two countries is still permitted).
Some may very well be driving back to Canada. Land arrivals, at this stage, will soon be required to show a negative COVID-19 test upon entry. Will they, too, be forced into quarantine at a hotel?
The Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA), a 100,000-member not-for-profit advocacy organization dedicated to “actively defending and improving the rights and privileges of Canadian travellers,” says the hotel quarantine rule is “excessive.”
“While the Canadian Snowbird Association is supportive of the expanded COVID-19 testing regimes at both airports and land crossings, the association is opposed to the upcoming mandatory hotel quarantine rule,” Evan Rachkovsky, director of research and communications at the CSA, told PAX on Sunday (Jan. 31). “This new measure is excessive and the Government of Canada should maintain the existing requirements which permit travellers returning home to quarantine in their own homes.”
The Canadian government, also on Friday, revealed that Air Canada, Transat, WestJet and Sunwing will suspend flight operations to Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30 (service to U.S. hot spots like Florida, however, is still a go).
Snowbirds, generally speaking, typically leave Canada in November and return in April, but those extending their stay may face challenges, depending on whether or not Ottawa extends its restrictions into May and beyond.
Insurance is one area of concern – there’s a limit to how long Canadians can be away until provincial health coverage gets taken away.
(In Ontario, for example, you can be away for up 212 days in a 12-month period and still maintain OHIP coverage).
Another issue that could potentially create problems is that Canadians are only permitted to stay up to 182 calendar days (six months) outside of the country without paying income tax in another country, such as the U.S.
Then there's the cost of quarantining: one miscalculation in planning a return to Canada over these next few weeks could result in one hefty hotel bill.
“One of the association’s primary concerns is the financial impact that these new protocols will have on returning snowbirds,” Rachkovsky said. “To force Canadian citizens to pay over $2,000 for three nights of accommodation in a government approved hotel is unreasonable and will be a financial hardship for many.”
What about vaccinated snowbirds?
Should snowbirds receive special privileges if they’re vaccinated?
Recent reports have indicated that snowbirds in Florida have been able to access a COVID-19 vaccine long before many Canadians back home.
In a story posted by the Montreal Gazette, there’s a contingent of vaccinated snowbirds from Montreal who believe they should be exempt from the hotel quarantine, simply because they got their shots.
“The vaccinated snowbirds returning from the U.S. with negative COVID-19 tests will be the safest people in town,” snowbird Susan Raymer told the Gazette.
Reports say that several travellers emailed their Members of Parliament on Friday to express displeasure over new travel restrictions they say are punitive.
According to the CSA, most snowbirds that are currently abroad are waiting to receive more details from the Canadian government before they decide their next move.
“Most snowbirds, who are currently abroad, are waiting to receive more details from the Government of Canada before they make a determination on how to proceed,” said Rachkovsky. “…At this time, we have not witnessed a significant number of snowbirds making plans to return home prior to the implementation of this new quarantine policy.”
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