As Pre-Entry COVID-19 Tests Disappear, Travel is Getting Easier. Travel Insurance is Not

Ottawa’s decision to lift its pre-entry COVID-19 testing requirement on April 1 removes yet another obstacle to Canadians’ trips abroad, but navigating the nuances of pandemic-era travel insurance will continue to be anything but easy. Even as flight sales soar, overbookings, the risk of future pandemic waves and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could still scramble the best-laid travel plans.

“People still need travel insurance. As we’ve seen over the past few years, things can change pretty fast,” Tanisha Kishan, a chartered insurance professional at rates comparison site Ratesdotca.

One of the top issues travellers should get clarity on when buying insurance is how their coverage would be affected if Canada or their destination country were to once again reimpose a Level 3 advisory against non-essential international travel in response to another wave of COVID-19, Ms. Kishan said. On February 28, Ottawa stopped recommending that Canadians avoid international travel for non-essential purposes. This means that Canadians can now often get coverage for COVID-19 related risks with basic travel insurance and without having to purchase a special policy specifically designed for pandemic times, said Martin Firestone, president of insurance brokerage Travel Secure Inc.

Several base insurance products reviewed by The Globe and Mail currently offer coverage for medical expenses incurred if you become infected with COVID-19 during your trip. Still, Ms. Kishan advises travellers always check whether a basic insurance product covers COVID-19 and to what extent.

But regular travel insurance may not cover you for medical costs related to COVID-19 if Canada or your destination country reinstates rules advising against non-essential travel before your scheduled departure date. To be sure you’re covered in case of a travel advisory upgrade, you may still need to seek out policies or riders specifically created for pandemic travel, Ms. Kishan warned.

Keep in mind also that trip cancellation and interruption insurance typically doesn’t generally cover you if you decide – or are forced to – overhaul your travel plans because of changes in COVID-19 travel advisories or other restrictions, Mr. Firestone noted. COVID-19 coverage for trip and interruption insurance typically only means you’re covered if you have to cancel your plans because you caught the virus or lost your job because of the pandemic prior to departure or had to unexpectedly quarantine during your travel.

One more thing to check: Eligibility and coverage limits can vary significantly depending on whether you’re fully vaccinated. Canada is not currently requiring booster shots to meet the definition of fully vaccinated, although some foreign countries do.

And yet, COVID-19 isn’t the only extraordinary risk facing Canadian travellers. As demands for flights bounces back amid loosening pandemic restrictions, overbooking could also become a significant nuisance, according to Ms. Kishan. Flight Centre Travel Group (Canada) says the number of airplane ticket sales it sold in Canada between March 1 and March 27 was up a whopping 160% compared with the full month of January.

Under Canada’s air passenger protection regulations, Canadians may be entitled to compensation of up to $2,400 and no-cost rebooking for being denied boarding because of overbooking. In practice, though, airlines routinely skirt around the rules, according to air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. Insurance can help mitigate the risk of being bumped off your flight, Ms. Kishan said, adding that some policies cover costs associated with cancellations and delays caused by airline overbooking.

Finally, if you’re heading to Europe, you’ll want to make sure your trip isn’t affected by the continuing hostilities in Ukraine. Ottawa is currently advising against all travel not just to Ukraine and Russia but also to Belarus, which allowed tens of thousands of Russian troops to gather on its territory prior to Russia’s invasion. And the federal government is telling Canadians to exercise “a high degree of caution” if travelling to neighbouring Moldova owing to the impact of the conflict. While there are no heightened advisories for nearby Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states, Mr. Firestone recommends checking government websites for the latest available updates on any travel restrictions related to the conflict before buying insurance.

In general, with travel rules and risks as fluid as they are right now, it’s a good idea to turn to an insurance broker for advice, Ms. Kishan said. Insurance comparison sites can be “a good starting point” for preliminary research, she said. But, she added, most travellers will likely be better off asking a flesh-and-blood travel expert for advice on their  specific situation.

Source: Globe and Mail

Quebec Extends Mask Mandate to End of April as Province Faces Rising COVID-19 Numbers

Quebec will prolong its mask requirement in public places through the month of April as the sixth wave of the pandemic brings a rise in hospitalizations and cases related to COVID-19. The province’s interim health director made the announcement on April 5. “It’s not over yet and we have to stay vigilant,” Dr. Luc Boileau said, referring to the health crisis.

The government has largely lifted most health measures in recent months, with officials touting it was time to find a way to live with the novel coronavirus. In March, it nixed its vaccine passport system and eased capacity restrictions for businesses.

The mask mandate, however, was supposed to be in place until mid-April. The government had previously announced that face coverings would no longer be required in the majority of public places by that time.

“As the majority of measures were lifted, we wanted to have an approach that’s more cautious,” Boileau said. He also urged Quebecers to be cautious during the latest surge of pandemic indicators, but said he has “no intention” to add more restrictions, like closing businesses. “We’re not there,” Boileau said. “It’s a wave that was expected.”

Quebec is one of the few provinces maintaining the requirement. It has bucked the trend alongside Prince Edward Island, which also decided to keep its mask mandate in effect in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19.

The province is also expanding access to its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the coming weeks. Anyone aged 70 and older will be able to sign up on Clic Santé for a fourth dose of the vaccine starting Wednesday, Boileau said. It will also be offered to Quebecers who are 60 and older as of April 11.

Source: Global News

Businesses Make Plans as P.E.I. Expected to Lift Mask Rules

The P.E.I. government has indicated it plans to lift its public mask mandate April 7, and many are anxiously awaiting official confirmation that the plan is going ahead. 

Robert Godfrey, CEO of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, says if the Chief Public Health Office believes it is safe to lift the guidelines, his group supports it. Godfrey said he knows some individual owners and their staff will choose to keep masks, and everyone has to do what works for their specific business. That is their right, he said. 

The chamber said the business community is hoping for a good summer and getting back to growth and increased revenues. “The chamber is really focused on the Moving On Plan and getting back to business as normal,” he said. Godfrey said it’s been good to have a staged plan for businesses to follow and he hopes the province will confirm soon that it will be acted upon. 

At the Royalty Crossing mall in Charlottetown, administration staff told CBC News that individual stores can determine their own policies around masks. If the province lifts masks mandates as expected, people will not be required to wear them in the public areas of the mall. Mall staff and contractors will still wear them, however.

Joel Steeves, store manager at Charm Diamond Centres in the mall, said the store will comply with CPHO guidelines. If masks are dropped, there will no longer be a requirement for them. He said staff are going to be asked to be aware of customers’ choices. “If the customer comes in with a mask, the employees will also wear a mask,” he said. Steeves said the idea is to help people be comfortable in their day-to-day activities. He expects to see a split in terms of whether people want to mask. 

The P.E.I. Hairdressers Association said it expects masks to continue to be required at most salons. “I feel like our salon owners and stylists will keep them in place just because they are so close to their clients,” said Sherri Runighan, the executive director of the association. She said there may be some who choose to drop them, but she expects the majority will want to keep masks in place along with the extra cleaning, sanitizing and Plexiglas. She said the association is very proud of how it’s worked to keep people safe. “They’ve been doing extremely well,” she said. 

The Bookmark in Charlottetown wants to continue recommending masks for customers and requiring them for staff no matter what happens provincially. Manager Lori Cheverie says many young children come in the store, and some can’t be vaccinated because they aren’t old enough. “We want to make sure they’re comfortable, their parents are comfortable,” said Cheverie. She said some staff members also have vulnerable people in their family. She expects that the store’s decision to be accepted, and that most customers will keep wearing masks.

Source: CBC