The federal government’s plan to restrict international flights to certain airports leaves Ottawa cut off from its overseas destinations, compounding what is already expected to be a heavy toll on the local travel hub and Canada’s airline industry from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measures announced Monday, including redirecting flights from Europe, Asia and Africa to only four Canadian airports, follow a weekend of disarray at many airports, where many travellers reported customs officials were not routinely providing direction to new arrivals.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the moves, which also include banning most non-Canadians from entering the country as well as anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, follow the latest advice of public-health officials and are aimed at better managing the spread of the illness.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the new restrictions on international flights will come into effect one minute after midnight on Wednesday morning and will see the vast majority of planes sent to airports in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Calgary.
Flights from the U.S., Mexico and parts of the Caribbean will not be affected.
The reduction of service means Ottawa will no longer connect directly to overseas destinations such as London and Frankfurt.
In an email statement to OBJ sent Monday afternoon, the Ottawa Airport Authority said the disruptions related to stemming the spread of COVID-19 will be substantial but necessary.
“We understand that measures were required to stem the transmission of the virus, including closing the border to a great extent, and we know that the impact on our airport and the industry will be profound,” said a spokesperson. The local airport will continue to work with the federal government, border authorities and public health officials to help contain the novel coronavirus, she added.
“We look forward to seeing the virus eradicated and a return to a sense of normal. In the meantime, our thoughts are with those who have been directly affected by the virus.”
The Canada Border Services Agency is also deploying more border officers to screen travellers and hand out pamphlets with instructions to self-isolate at home for 14 days, watch for symptoms and tell public-health officials if symptoms do develop.
Automated questionnaires administered through touchscreens at entry points have also been modified to ask everyone who is arriving from overseas whether they have coughs, difficulty breathing or are feeling feverish, the CBSA said on Twitter.
New arrivals will also be required to acknowledge that they're being asked to self-isolate for two weeks to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
The measures follow a weekend in which some travellers reported they were not being properly screened for the respiratory illness as well as images of long lines and crowded spaces in arrival areas, contrary to instructions not to gather in large groups.
The complaints sparked some provinces and municipalities to step up their own efforts at local airports.
Montreal city officials announced Monday they were sending civil security and public-health workers to Montreal-Trudeau International Airport to remind travellers they must self-isolate upon returning to Canada.
Dr. Mylene Drouin, Montreal's director of public health, said the measures are needed because travellers arriving in the province did not appear to be taking seriously Quebec's order requiring two weeks of isolation.
Travellers will pass by the employees before they leave the airport and be given information sheets and asked to note their symptoms and take their temperatures twice a day during the isolation period, Drouin said.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said travellers must be made aware that upon arriving in Canada, they cannot go to work, school or anywhere else for two weeks.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also said Sunday that he was directing provincial officials to check up on airports in the province after he visited Edmonton International Airport to investigate reports of inadequate screening of international travellers.
The union representing Canada's border officers was also set to meet with the CBSA on Monday after raising concerns last week about a lack of information and guidance to its members, one of whom has tested positive for COVID-19.
There were 324 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada as of Monday morning and another 17 probable cases, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Four people have died of the respiratory illness.
– With files from Canadian Press