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Safe travels in the time of COVID-19

With the holidays fast approaching, some of us may be thinking of ringing in the New Year with far away friends or family, or of getting away from the cold Canadian winter by flying to a hot and tropical destination - both of which many people skipped last year.

But before packing up the sunscreen and presents, it’s important to keep in mind that the pandemic has changed travel for the foreseeable future, so employing good travel hygiene habits remains as important as ever.

Before you travel

Canada’s vaccine rollout has been under way for several months now, and being vaccinated is the most important step in helping to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 whether you’re staying home or travelling to faraway places.

As you plan your trip, consult your destination’s travel restrictions and make sure you travel with the necessary documents, such as proof of vaccination or a recently obtained negative COVID-19 test. If you’re considering traveling outside Canada, always look at recent news for the local status of COVID-19 and vaccine campaigns at your destination, as well as any relevant public health measures, so you can make an informed decision and complete any requirements.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you may not be able to travel within Canada on trains and planes; additionally, depending on your destination and mode of transportation, you may need to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of leaving on your trip and have the results of your test on hand while travelling. Note that the Canadian government is still warning against leisure travel if you are not fully vaccinated.

Health Canada recently approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11; if you are traveling with children, keep an eye on local developments to find out when and where they will be able to get vaccinated. If you have questions about vaccination for children, resources such as the Canadian Pediatrics Society website are available.

Most importantly, make sure that you are well enough to travel and that your immune system is in the best shape possible to help protect you against COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses like the flu*. Travellers with existing health conditions or chronic illness should practice vigilance and consider consulting their health professional prior to departure.

Lastly, ensure your immunizations are up-to-date and have a safety plan in place that includes travel insurance and a concrete set of steps you would take if you or your loved ones are exposed to COVID-19 or get sick while you are away from home.

During travel

Whether you are travelling by air, land or waterway, please follow the guidelines issued by your local health authorities and cabin crew. These guidelines are likely available on their website or even on your ticket confirmation.

Our understanding of how the COVID-19 virus spreads has evolved significantly since early 2020. What we have learned is that COVID-19 spreads through droplets and aerosols from other people that can accumulate and travel longer distances, and that spread is more likely indoors, in crowded places, and in places with poor ventilation.

In light of this, you will want to wear a mask that provides a higher level of protection (think improved fit and filtration - see this page for tips on mask fit and quality), and wear it consistently when indoors around other people.

Beyond masking, maintain physical distance from other travellers when possible. If you are entering an indoor space that is crowded and/or poorly ventilated, consider wearing a well-fitting and high-quality mask, taking steps to improve ventilation where possible (like opening a window), and limiting your exposure time. If you are gathering with others, the most important layer is being fully vaccinated, but you can also consider investing in rapid antigen testing for all attendees if tests are readily available in your destination.

Lastly, remember that while the COVID-19 virus is less likely to spread through surfaces, it is still important to practice good hand hygiene and wash your hands regularly. Try also to keep track of the places you visit and the people you are in close contact with during your vacation, as this may be vital information in the event of infection.

After travel

Upon returning home, follow your provincial health guidelines and note that most travelers who are not fully vaccinated will be required to quarantine upon return. At the moment, there are some exemptions for certain people who are not fully vaccinated.

Though most provinces have been gradually reopening and moving forward, it is important to remember that the pandemic has not ended and continues to rage in many parts of the world. With potent variants making their way around the globe, we urge you to exercise caution and help reduce spread by following the up-to-date travel recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and your local health authorities.

Let’s help make this holiday season restful and enjoyable for all Canadians by doing our research, and by being careful and respectful of the communities we visit.

Safe travels, and happy holidays everyone!

*A note about the flu shot

Although last year’s flu season was exceptionally mild compared to previous years, this winter will be different due in part to fewer public health restrictions. And while the majority of us have great protection from COVID-19 thanks to the vaccines, we may still be exposed to other viruses like the flu. The flu shot won’t prevent you from getting COVID-19, but it could help reduce the chance of getting viral symptoms – which can easily be confused with those caused by the virus - helping keep you safe and keep your mind at ease as you travel.

Beyond COVID-19 and influenza, consider reviewing with a travel clinic if you would benefit from any other protection specific to your destination.

Helpful links

This article was published on November 23, 2021. All the information included reflects the reality as of this date, but please note that the COVID-19 situation, and related vaccination research, is constantly evolving. Please refer to your municipal, provincial and federal updates for the most up to date developments on the COVID-19 vaccine.