In spite of the latest advice from Canada’s public health officials to avoid non-essential international travel as COVID-19 Omicron variant spreads across North America, one Niagara-on-the-Lake resident said he’s not letting the virus slow down his holiday plans.
Daniel Turner is travelling to Florida this Christmas break for a vacation — and to visit his recently deceased grandmother’s home — taking a flight from Buffalo to Orlando on Dec. 27, before flying back to Buffalo and crossing back into Canada for Jan. 3. He said he’s overly not worried about the Omicron variant.
“We’ve generally let the virus control our lives,” he said. “This is an endemic virus that’s going to be living with us probably for the rest of my life. So, I’m not letting the Omicron variant deter me.”
Health Canada began advising Canadians on Dec. 15 to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country, regardless of their vaccination status. As of Dec. 21, all Canadians returning from international trips, even short ones, need proof of a negative PCR test to re-enter the country.
“Cases have been far higher (in the United States) than they have been on our side of the border,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region Public Health’s acting medical officer of health. “People, when they travel, are going to take on a lot of risk.”
As of Dec. 20, Omicron is now the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S., making up 73 per cent of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During a Dec. 20 media briefing, Hirji said COVID-19 cases will “explode” in Niagara, with a wave of infections that will dwarf previous waves, hence their push for people to avoid travel and big gatherings over Christmas.
“I don’t think it’s the way anyone wanted to celebrate the holidays, but it’s what we need to do,” Hirji said.
Turner says he’s double-vaccinated and plans to take all safety precautions possible while in the States: physically distancing from others, wearing his face mask when necessary and limiting his time spent indoors. He’s also arranging to take a PCR test in Florida before flying back home.
“As long as we follow those rules, there’s really not much we can do,” he said. “We have to take these inherent risks.”
On the other hand, David Mines, also from Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a season-ticket holder for the Buffalo Bills, and says he plans not to cross the border for the football team’s two remaining home games this winter.
“We were really looking forward, this year, to being able to go over more,” he said. “It’s a disappointment.”
Mines said he took a trip to Tampa early December to see the Buffalo Bills play. Upon returning to Canada, he had to pay $225 American dollars in Buffalo for a PCR test for his son, since the test results he ordered for his son in Florida weren’t available within the required 72 hours of their return.
“It’s just too much of a hassle, and the sheer cost … of getting tests done,” he said. “We just felt it’s not worth it.”
Mines said many people he knows are feeling tired and frustrated with the increasing travel rules and COVID-19’s dominance in everyone’s daily lives.
“I think everybody’s going to make their own choices at this point in time,” he said.
CORRECTION – Dec. 23, 2021: This article has been updated from a previously published version to correct the reference to the PCR test required for Canadians travelling abroad and to correct the types of COVID-19 tests Turner will take and Mines’ son took during their U.S. trips.