Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association

 

Hint from Hippocrates:
First Do No Harm

by Milan Korcok

 

Non-snowbirds just don’t get it. Oh sure − it’s about the weather, the sun, the temperatures (even if Fahrenheit), the For Canadian snowbirds, 2020 is a year best forgotten. Though the vast majority were grounded by a strict border shutdown, those few who managed a “getaway” were penalized upon their return by onerous federal rules culminating in the infamous hotel-quarantine debacle that media have described as “imprisonment,” “unconstitutional,” “dangerous” and “unCanadian” … all in Ottawa’s purported interests of keeping Canadians “safe.”

As might be expected, constitutional rights advocacy groups have jumped to the challenge, claiming that the federal government rules are overbroad and seriously infringe on Canadians’ fundamental rights, freedom from unreasonable detention and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Also challenged are government’s arbitrary requirement for negative COVID-19 tests for Canada-bound flights and its role in fashioning an “agreement” with Air Canada, Sunwing, Air Transat and WestJet to suspend flights to Mexico and the Caribbean through April 30 − the virtual end of the current winter tourism season.

Ironically, Canadian snowbirds who were able to get to Florida or Arizona this past winter almost universally commented that they felt “liberated,” “free” and, most important, “safe” in their surroundings. Though facial masking and social distancing were rigorously practised, and safety measures which they had been accustomed to at home were maintained, life went on fairly normally. Shops, supermarkets, hair salons, gyms and restaurants went on serving their customers, and most schools remained in session even while maintaining space, occupancy and sanitation practices.

In petulant response to this “liberation,” much of Canada’s media singled out and shamed those who travelled to their winter homes as callous, privileged, unwilling to heed Ottawa’s admonition that they stay sheltered and share the pain − an effort that ran aground when it was discovered that dozens of federal and provincial legislators, hospital executives, top government bureaucrats and even an administrator of Alberta’s COVID vaccine rollout spent their Christmas holidays in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Florida and other warm-weather locations. Penitent resignations followed.

Lockdowns can be costly − for the lockers

That the pandemic still has a course to run is clear from reports of new variants appearing and fears of a third wave emerging in many parts of the world, including North America. Letting down one’s guard now is a fool’s errand. But in dealing with these developments, and until we reach our desired “herd immunity,” what have we learned about the relative values of governing by fear and edict on the one hand, or individual responsibility and educated choice on the other?

Reports about intensifying COVID infection surges throughout the U.S. over the past year (which Canadian media enthusiastically magnified) described a varying range of measures applied by state and local governments to try and control the pandemic. The results were mixed, but instructive.

California and New York virtually shut down their economies: restaurants, shopping venues, gyms, hair salons, churches and, most significantly, schools. In the process, millions of jobs were eliminated, travel virtually stopped, municipal budgets were savaged, families underwent untold stresses and political reputations shattered. (At the height of a major COVID surge last November, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom was photographed, maskless, dining with 11 senior staff and their families at one of that state’s most expensive restaurants (three stars and a “tasting” menu starting at $350 per diner), while the state was under strict rules prohibiting indoor dining and forbidding more than three households to congregate. Publicity about that indiscretion, and the statewide lockdown that followed, resulted in the governor facing “recall,” a measure that might lead to his removal from office if a sufficient number of petitioners sign on. Those numbers are reported to be getting too close for Newsom’s comfort.)

By contrast, governors of Texas, Florida, Arizona and several other states resisted blanket government-mandated shutdowns, relying instead on personal responsibility and individual good sense − bolstered by facial masking, distancing and reasonable occupancy limitations − to control the spread of COVID-19. They remained committed to keeping their economies open, forestalling massive job displacements and encouraging stores, shops and schools to carry on as best they might. They were intent on not making the cure worse than the disease. First, do no harm. They appear to have been vindicated.

Recent COVID-19 tracking data from American’s four most populous states indicates that infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths in “free states” − i.e. Florida and Texas − had become at least as favourable or better than that from “lockdown states” − California and New York. Furthermore, Florida, Texas and several other states had avoided the ruinous economic and social consequences that lockdown invites.

Said Arizona Governor Greg Ducey: “Unlike other states, we never did a shutdown here in Arizona. We withstood the calls from the extremes on both sides, and we will continue to ignore them. We always knew that fighting this virus would be dependent on the personal responsibility of everyday Arizonans.”

When President Joe Biden warned in a March 11 national address that further shutdowns may be necessary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis replied: “To even contemplate doing any kind of lockdown honestly is insane. And so that’s not going to happen in the State of Florida. We like the fact that people are able to work here. We like the fact that we’ve been able to save thousands and thousands of businesses and livelihoods. And we love the fact that parents have the right to send their kids to school in person. We’re going to continue doing what works, but under no circumstances would we entertain doing anything of the sort (a lockdown).”

U.S. lawmakers push for border relaxation

Canadian visitors have always been welcomed in the U.S. Snowbirds are testament to that fact. And, with vaccinations against COVID ramping up, and the prospect of vaccination passports taking hold, 26 U.S. members of Congress (mostly from northern border states, and representing both parties) have petitioned President Joe Biden to start a gradual border re-opening. Consequently, on January 22, 2021 he issued an Executive Order directing all relevant U.S. departments to address the issue of northern border restrictions and to work with Canadian agencies to develop a plan for stabilizing cross-border relations.

In a statement released on January 21, 2021, Co-Chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) wrote “…as we approach one year of restricted travel, we also must recognize the significant impact these restrictions have had on individuals, families, businesses and communities on both sides of the border. The continued ritual of monthly extensions without substantive signs of collaboration or progress only increases uncertainty and amplifies hardship for the border communities we represent. Since the onset of the restrictions, we have been adamant that preserving the deep social and economic bond shared between the U.S. and Canada necessitates a clear pathway forward.”

Specifically:

  • Establish a Bilateral Plan for Restoring Travel
  • Prioritize Vaccines and Testing for All CBP Staff
  • Allow for Families to Safely Reunite
  • Develop a Policy for Property Owners
  • Ensure Reciprocal Access to Transit through Boundary Waters

Though there appears to be somewhat more incentive toward accommodating a re-opening from U.S. lawmakers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approach remains more tenuous.

President Biden has predicted that the U.S. will have enough vaccine to inoculate all Americans who want it by May 1, 2021, but PM Trudeau has projected September as a more likely date for Canadians to reach that goal, albeit that still depends on Canada’s access to vaccine supplies, which is no sure thing. And, as the PM told CTV on March 12, when it comes to opening the border, that will depend on vaccinations in Canada, not the U.S. That of itself is not encouraging, as Canada is seriously lagging the U.S. in vaccinating its citizens. As of April 15, 2021, The Bloomberg Vaccine world tracking service reports that Canada has so far fully vaccinated (with two doses) 2.2 per cent of Canadians and has administered at least one dose to 19.6 per cent of the population. The U.S. has fully vaccinated 23.6 per cent (two doses) of its citizens and administered at least one dose 37.9 percent its population.

Considering that Canada has been far less impacted by COVID-19 than the U.S. (61 deaths per 100,000 population compared to 163 per 100,000), that vaccines are now a part of the solution and that there are viable, proven options to sheltering behind walls, is it any wonder that those approaching the Canadian-U.S. border ask if this is the best that we can do?

Milan Korcok is an award-winning medical writer and author who has been reporting on international health care and Canadian snowbird issues for three decades. He currently serves as contributing editor to the International Travel and Health Insurance Journal in the U.K. He is a dual Canadian/U.S. citizen. He lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

CBOC travel stats 2020-2019

How steep was the drop in Canada’s outbound travel during the pandemic? According to the Conference Board of Canada, it was precipitous.

Here’s the picture.

Compared to 2019, when Canadians made 33 million out-of-country trips of at least one night’s duration, they made just 8.97 million in 2020 and 88 per cent of that activity was in the first three months of the year, before the pandemic was declared.

Breaking that down, the CBoC reports that auto trips to the U.S. dropped from 10.19 million in 2019 to 2.1 million in 2020; non-auto from 9.2 million to 2.5 million; and overseas trips from 12.8 million in 2019 to 4.2 million in 2020. Again, the great bulk of those trips were in the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic was declared.

Among the U.S. locations most affected by these reductions? Las Vegas -82.2%; San Francisco -86%; Phoenix -69.9%; Miami -74.7%; Orlando -71.5%. Least affected were Fort Lauderdale 61.6%; Fort Myers 58.6%; Palm Beach 47.7%.

Travel to Europe reflected the same picture, with total trips dropping by 86% from 2019 to 2020, and 66% of those trips occurring in the first quarter.

Arrivals in Asia, Oceania and South Pacific declined by 82 per cent from 2019 to 2020 (3.6 million to 658,229). The area most affected was China, with arrivals dropping by 91.2%.

As for the non-U.S. sun locations − arrivals in the Caribbean/Mexico dropped by 60.5% in 2020 from 2019 (5.6 million to 2.2 million).

Credit Conference Board of Canada

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