Ottawa, health experts, splash cold water on extending Atlantic bubble to Cuba
HALIFAX -- As seats begin to fill up on chartered flights scheduled to fly from Halifax to Cuba this winter, questions are beginning to emerge.
The travel agent who is hoping to fly people from the Atlantic bubble to Cuba in February and March can't keep up with the demand.
"Our Feb. 12 departure is getting very, very full," said Elayne Pink of Absolute Travel. "Our business class component on that trip is completely sold out."
Pink says an Air Canada charter flight from Halifax to Cuba would fly Atlantic Canadians to a resort where only people from the Atlantic bubble would be allowed to stay.
"We really applaud the creativity of this idea," said Tiffany Chase, a spokesperson for Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
The Halifax airport has been looking for ways to get passenger numbers back up.
"We have been in contact with the travel agency behind this initiative so we're looking to learn more about how to proceed and how we can support it from a facility perspective."
Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc was asked about the Cuba trip earlier Tuesday.
"Public health authorities have clearly expressed that’s not the best idea even with quarantine," Leblanc said.
Right now, Canadians have been told to avoid all non-essential international travel.
"My solid advice for this season is to not do it," said infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett. "So, it's a great idea going forward for harm reduction when we have vaccine and therapeutics available, to be able to support this strategy, but if you don't have to go right, it's probably a better idea not to."
Cuba had been held up as international model of keeping COVID-19 under control until August, when the country of 11 million saw an outbreak, primarily in the capital of Havana.
To date, Johns Hopkins University is reporting about 6,700 cases of COVID-19 in Cuba.
At the moment, there are 499 active cases being reported in the country.
Dr. Barrett says there are too many unknowns about how Cuba is managing COVID-19.
"There may be testing done by the resort, but again all a test tells you is if you're positive," she said. "Negative tests don't necessarily mean you're not infected."
As of now, anybody travelling to Cuba would be required to abide by the 14-day quarantine rule upon their return.
Pink is hoping a rapid testing pilot project at Calgary International will be expanded to Stanfield International.
"To jumpstart the travel industry we need to have rapid testing at airports," Pink said. "People can't go on with 14-day quarantines. It just doesn't work for them and this trip is such a huge example of the point we're trying to make."
All passengers who have agreed to going on the trip will be required to sign a document, which includes a general waiver of rights and a release of liability due to travel during the pandemic.