When the federal government announced in early July that fully vaccinated Canadians traveling abroad could skip quarantine when they return home, some travel-hungry people began making vacation plans.
But traveling 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 Canadian Public Health Agency (PHAC) told CBC News that it has loosened restrictions on fully vaccinated travelers because Canada’s COVID-19 situation has improved. But PHAC says the government still advises against international travel because some countries currently have high rates of infection and COVID-19 variants remain a concern.
PHAC also warns that travelers may run into problems if their international destination suddenly imposes a lockdown.
“Canadians may be forced to stay outside Canada longer than expected,” spokeswoman Anne Génier said in an email. “Canadians should not rely on the Government of Canada for assistance with 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 public health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan. “There are many places in the world where COVID-19 is still a major threat.”
Muhajarine was to fly to Mozambique in the 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 has high COVID-19 infection rates.
“We are in the middle of a fourth wave, a delta variant wave in Saskatchewan,” Muhajarine said. “I do not think that even though I am fully vaccinated, I should travel.”
Like Canada, many countries now allow fully vaccinated travelers to skip pandemic-related entry requirements, such as a mandatory quarantine and / or a COVID-19 test.
However, travelers must ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine they received is accepted in the country they plan to visit.
Some countries also do not recognize people with mixed vaccine doses as fully vaccinated, a potential problem for the millions of Canadians who received shots of two different vaccines.
Canada says it is working with other countries to address these differences.
And progress has been made. Barbados, England and Northern Ireland recently changed their policy to now accept mixed doses. However, neighboring Ireland is still do not do.
“We hope this will change very soon,” Ireland spokeswoman Jocelyn Black told CBC News in an email.
The United States does not currently recognize mixed doses. That attitude caused concern when the United States announced last month that from the beginning of November, foreign air passengers entering the country should be fully vaccinated.
“I feel blind,” said Ingrid Whyte of Toronto. She and her husband, John, each have one dose of COVISHIELD (a brand of AstraZeneca) and another dose of Pfizer.
The Snowbirds are booked to fly to Florida on November 17, but now they are worried that they may not be able to enter the United States because of their mixed vaccines.
“We do not really know what to do about the situation,” Whyte said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told CBC News this week that it is still hammering out the details of the upcoming vaccination requirement for air travelers, including the list of approved vaccines.
“The CDC is actively working with vaccine experts on which vaccinations will be accepted,” spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said in an email
She said the CDC will provide more information in the coming weeks.
Instead of waiting for it, Whyte will solve her problem now by getting a third dose of vaccine so she would have two doses of the same vaccine.
“We’re running out of time,” she said.
However, Ontario does not provide third-party travelers. The province said it follows 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 offers third vaccine doses to people in their province who need it for travel.
Says Nova Scotia It will begin offering third doses on October 15 to people who need it to travel to work.
What about travel insurance?
Travelers can now get medical coverage of COVID-19, but it does not cover all pandemic-related issues.
Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said it is possible to get cancellation coverage if you get COVID-19 and need to cancel your trip. But he said you are unlikely to be covered if you cancel your plans for other pandemic-related reasons because COVID-19 is now a “known” issue.
“If your reason is going to be due to a closure, a fifth or sixth wave or seventh wave, you’m out of luck,” said Firestone, who works for Travel Secure in Toronto.
He also warns that some COVID-19 medical coverage plans do not include costs if you need to stay longer at your destination due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Firestone said this type of coverage, known as travel cancellation insurance, typically includes a daily cap, so even if you buy it, you may not be covered by all of your expenses.
“You can stay in a hotel for $ 1,000 a day, that doesn’t mean they cover your costs at the hotel for 14 days,” he said. “All any of these products could do was offset some of your costs.”
Canada still advises against all cruise ship voyages. As a result, many insurance providers will not offer COVID-19 medical coverage for cruise passengers.
Will McAleer, CEO of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, says at least a few providers offer this type of coverage to vaccinated travelers – and no cruise passengers should leave home without it.
“If I get sick, I could talk about an evacuation of a helicopter air from the front of the ship at sea to a port, to an air ambulance, to a center that can take care of me,” he said. “So it can be quite complicated and expensive.”
MacAleer said all travelers should do careful research before purchasing their insurance plan to ensure they have the right protection during the pandemic.
“Shopping [around] is the key for consumers at this point. “