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Advice for Canadians travelling abroad as fourth wave looms

Last Updated Aug 4, 2021 at 2:33 pm EDT

FILE -- A woman makes her way through Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, December 14, 2020. International travellers will now have to pay for a COVID-19 test if required. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Destination countries warn travel rules and restrictions could change suddenly.

Some countries still require vaccinated Canadian travellers to quarantine.

Travellers should factor the cost of COVID-19 tests into their budgets.

After more than a year of staycations and lockdowns, the itch to travel is alive and well for many Canadians.

Nearly a third of unvaccinated Canadians surveyed by health insurers in June even said they would get inoculated if it were a requirement for travel. But, not all travel destinations treat vaccines equally, and pandemic travel carries risks beyond health.

Kerry Bowman is a global health expert with the University of Toronto and international travel is part of his job. He told CityNews he worries about leaving the country.

“There could be rules or interpretations once I am out of Canada that are going to put me in a situation where I can’t enter or I can’t leave or who knows what,” said Bowman.

Even fully vaccinated people may have to quarantine at their destination, depending on the brand or brands of vaccines they have received.

Thirteen European countries, including Italy and Portugal, are not recognizing the COVISHIELD vaccine, which is the AstraZeneca serum manufactured in India.

Health Canada confirms to CityNews that more than 81,000 Canadians have at least one COVISHIELD dose.

Further, more than 3.1 million Canadians received a mix of vaccines, and some countries don’t recognize travelers with different first and second doses as being fully immunized.

While some countries, including Barbados, have now reversed this policy, several cruise lines still don’t accept tourists with the AstraZeneca/mRNA mix.

“What we are seeing is that there is incredible patchwork of acceptability and non-acceptability,” said Bowman, who believes there is an urgent need for global vaccine standards.

Simply booking a trip can be tricky, as every country has its own rules and requirements. The United Kingdom is forcing all Canadians to test and quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status.

Quarantine and testing requirements can also make pandemic travel pricey.

For a return trip, a Canadian traveller may need to pay out of pocket for two to four PCR tests, which can be up to $200 each, notes Wayne Smith, who teaches hospitality and tourism at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Business.

Though next door to the U.K., Ireland has its own travel rules.

It removed the requirement for Canadians to quarantine in June. However, it’s one of many countries that have a high-risk countries list, which it warns could change at a moment’s notice if cases suddenly rise. Then there is Cuba, which is currently waiving the testing requirement for Canadians travelling directly from Canada on Canadian flights. Cuba is also not requiring quarantine if you stay in an all-inclusive hotel.

Smith says rules are changing on a dime as conditions shift at home and abroad.

He uses Florida as an example. “A couple months ago it looked really good, [but] over the weekend Florida just broke a record for COVID cases.”

This is among the reasons he recommends sightseers enhance travel insurance before heading off.

“Your credit card likely won’t cut it if the situation changes and you have to cancel,” he explained.

Pre-pandemic, Smith says it would be common for travellers to book six months in advance and expect everything to be okay, but things now are very uncertain.

His advice to those battling the travel bug: stay close to home and explore what the beauty Canada has to offer.