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Airline industry, travellers rejoice over lifting of COVID-19 border restrictions

Ottawa announced Monday it will officially lift all COVID-19 border restrictions as of Oct. 1, a move that's been called for by those within the airline industry for months.

The ArriveCAN app will become optional, random testing at airports will go away and travellers will not need to provide their vaccination status.

Mask mandates on planes, trains and buses will also be scrapped.

Andy Gibbons, WestJet’s vice-president of government relations and regulatory affairs, says the company supports the government’s change of direction.

“We feel heard today. These changes are long overdue,” said Gibbons.

“If you are a frontline aviation employee, whether it's a pilot, flight attendant or (gate) agent, you have been through a lot in the last few years.”

There have been more than 1,100 reported incidents of mask non-compliance on WestJet planes this year, an increase from 2021.

Last week, the airline said those situations have caused one air turn-back, nine gate turn-backs and 74 flights to reopen the cabin door after boarding, to offload unruly guests.

The government says the removal of these border measures is the result of modelling indicating Canada has "largely passed" the peak of the Omicron wave of infections; Canada's high vaccination and lower hospitalization and death rates; and the availability of boosters, rapid tests and treatments.

However, the federal health minister has not closed the door on restrictions coming back.

“The Government of Canada will maintain the ability to re-establish certain border measures, should they be required in the future,” said Jean-Yves Duclos.

Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra says the government’s approach to restrictions was rooted in science.

“We’ve always maintained that the extraordinary measures we introduced at our borders, and on airplanes, trains and boats, are temporary,” he said.

Calgary’s Airport Authority says the last two and a half years have been difficult, but they are on the road to recovery.

“If you had a choice of a nine- or 15-hour flight on an American carrier or a European carrier, without a mask, or a Canadian carrier with a mask, it discouraged Canadians from booking with Canadian carriers,” said Bob Sartor, president and CEO.

“We will be about 80 per cent recovered from 2019’s record by the end of this year. We're already moving along quite nicely. We are the most recovered of the eight large airports in the country.”

In 2019, YYC saw more than 18 million guests travel through, and Sartor expects the same or close to that by the end of the year.

Sartor predicts Calgary will smash records in the next few years, forecasting more than 20 million passengers flying in and out.

North Floridian Mark Rains landed in Calgary on Monday for a hunting trip.

He says he’s glad he will not have to wear a mask or use ArriveCAN the next time he comes to Canada.

“I think a little bit of common sense,” said Rains.

“It takes a little bit too long getting in here. I'm glad to see Canada do that. That's a great thing.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-disease specialist, says the use of masks should be considered a valuable tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19, even if it's now an optional measure.

"I think it’s important to recognize that masking is helpful, especially in indoor environments, where we know the vast majority of COVID is transmitted," said Bogoch.

"We know it’s transmitted primarily through the air between people and masking can reduce the risk of transmission."

Bogoch says it's not lost on him that some might be uncomfortable with this, but they should do it anyway.

"In indoor environments, you heard this announcement. It was very clear that they strongly recommend that people wear masks," said Bogoch.

"While travelling on planes, I’m not sure if people will do so, but it's still strongly recommended." Top Stories

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