FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Canadian snowbirds now visiting South Florida will face new layers of COVID-19 rules upon returning back home.
Effective Feb. 22, those who fly back to Canada will have to stay in a government-approved hotel at their expense for three days to await the results of a newly required COVID-19 test.
People who drive back must show evidence of a negative test when they reach the U.S.-Canadian border.
The tough new COVID screening measures created hard choices recently for people visiting Florida and other U.S. tourist spots, travel experts say.
One recommendation: “Extend their trips and take out additional travel insurance and wait this out until the restrictions get lifted, which I don’t think is going to happen until April, May or June,” said Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure in Toronto, a travel insurance brokerage.
Those are the present-day realities for Canadians who have annually enjoyed life’s pleasures and done business on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border during the winter months.
Those realities have frustrated business owners, investors and tourists.
As the pandemic gripped the economies of the U.S. and Canada last year, few among snowbirds, short-term tourists or government officials expected this year’s winter tourism season to be normal.
But as the pandemic has lingered and vaccine rollouts have been slow, the Canadian government has resolved to again tighten its international travel rules.
Thus far, the number of Canadians visiting the tri-county area, though obviously diminished, is incalculable, Susan Harper, Canada’s consul general in Miami, recently said.
But the bottom line is this: “Now is not the time to travel,” she said.
“The government of Canada has been very clear and consistent on this fact,” Harper said in an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Canadians are strongly advised to cancel or postpone any non-essential travel plans. Unfortunately, tourism and recreation fall into the category of non-essential travel.”
Other than anecdotally, Harper said there is no way to know how many are now in South Florida or elsewhere across the state.
Like its neighbor to the south, Canada is in a race to vaccinate its population while keeping the virus at bay with other measures. One has been to keep the Canada-U.S. border closed to non-essential travel since March 2020.
According to media reports, 14.5 million Canadians are projected to be vaccinated by June. But thus far, only residents of long-term-care homes and essential front-line workers have been able to get shots.
Some flew south to receive COVID vaccines and return home until the state of Florida put a stop to the practice of giving shots to foreign residents. However, Canadians who can prove Florida property ownership are still flying in to get their shots, Firestone said.
“Clients are leaving Canada now to fly down to Florida to get a vaccine,” he said. “They are [property] owners.”
The year-over-year decline in Canadian winter visitors can be gauged anecdotally by what people don’t hear and see in the streets: French speakers from the province of Quebec, and lots of Canadian provincial license plates.
“I don’t hear the French language spoken as much as we used to,” said Marie Suarez, CEO and executive director of the Greater Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “We do miss our Canadian tourists. They are a big part of our winter economy here.”
Born in Canada and a naturalized U.S. citizen, Suarez has family in Ottawa and would like to travel north to see her father. But not now. “I’m staying put,” she said.
Last week, the Canadian government was preparing a list of hotels where returning air travelers could stay for three days upon arriving by plane from international destinations in four designated Canadian cities: Montreal and Toronto in the country’s eastern half; Calgary and Vancouver in the west.
With few exceptions, nonessential air travelers are now required to reserve three nights in a hotel approved by the government. The Canadian government’s official website listed four airport area hotels in Montreal; four in Toronto, two in Calgary and one in Vancouver.
The new measures, the government says on its website, “are in addition to existing mandatory pre-boarding and health requirements for air travelers.”
For those driving back home, the government is requiring that all travelers provide a negative COVID-19 molecular test result taken within 72 hours of their entry into Canada. They must also take a test toward the end of their 14-day quarantine at home, a quarantine requirement which was mandated last year.
The government intends to have 16 testing sites operating at ports of entry across Canada for people arriving by car. Five will be available by Feb. 22 with 11 more activated by March 4.
Vaccinated Canadians will not be exempt from the requirements because research remains unclear as to whether people who received shots can still transmit the virus, the government says on its website.
“Travel is not easy now,” Firestone said. “They’ve made it very difficult with these layers of protection. But the layers are not protections. They’re barriers.”
Firestone wondered how Canada could cover all 117 entry points along its U.S. border. People flying home could land in a nearby American city such as Buffalo, N.Y., or Seattle, rent a car and drive across, though they would still need to present documentation of a test.
There are tough fines of up to $3,000 for circumventing the government protocols. And the Canadian Armed Forces is deploying “reconnaissance teams” to help with screenings at the border, according to CTV News.
Whether traveling by air or land, everyone is required to submit itineraries and contact information electronically — including a “suitable” quarantine plan — via the government’s ArriveCAN app or online before crossing the border or boarding a flight.
Harper said she understands it’s hard on everyone with business and family interests on both sides of the border.
“Florida Realtors tell us Canadians are the biggest source of residential real estate [buyers,],” she said. “This year is very tough. It’s tough on Canadians who own or traditionally rent to snowbirds.”
Visitors who elect to stay in the U.S. for an extended period of time can do so for up to six months according to a standing agreement between the two countries.
“There are a lot of segments to the Canadian population – there are people who planned to be here the full six months,” she said. “Some people may be willing and able to change their plans to stay in place for the full six months. There may be people who never planned to be here that long and are not able to.”
But she added that the government is “doing everything possible to ensure that essential business travel is still taking place.” Those travelers would include truckers with products to haul over the border, and health care workers.
Copyright © 2021, South Florida Sun Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.