The federal government has warned that Canada’s three-month suspension of flights to Mexico could cause a “profound economic crisis” in North America.
Citing the risk posed to Canada by new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that flights to Mexico and Caribbean countries would be suspended until April 30 starting Sunday. He also said that travelers entering Canada would be required to go into quarantine in hotels at their own expense for up to three days until they receive a negative Covid-19 test result.
It is unclear when the mandatory hotel quarantine requirement will start. The Canadian government said in a statement that “as soon as possible in the coming weeks, all air travelers arriving in Canada, with very limited exceptions, must reserve a room in a government of Canada-approved hotel for three nights at their own cost,” adding that “more details will be available in the coming days.”
With regard to the temporary halt on flights, Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the federal government hoped that the suspension could be lifted “as soon as possible in order to prevent a profound economic crisis in the North American region.”
Canada is the second most important source country for travelers to Mexico after the United States, although the number of visitors declined 56% to just under 2.1 million in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Six airlines will be directly affected by the suspension of flights, the newspaper Reforma reported, among which is Mexico’s flag carrier, Aeroméxico.
The airline announced that it would suspend flights from Mexico to Canada from the second week of February until April 30. Aeroméxico said in a statement that its flights to Toronto would be suspended on February 8 and its services to Montreal and Vancouver on February 10.
Trudeau said Canadian airlines would make arrangements with customers already in Mexico and Caribbean destinations to organize their return flights.
The news agency AFP reported that Canada’s new travel rules, among which is also a requirement for international passengers to undergo PCR Covid-19 testing upon arrival at Canadian airports, were cause for concern among some travelers at Mexico City airport on Friday.
“I understand that they want to prevent more people being infected … but at the same time I’m a little bit annoyed because I already paid for a test [which is required before boarding a flight to Canada] and doing it again is uncomfortable,” said Ludmila Guerra, a 40-year-old Salvadoran resident of Canada.
A 30-year-old engineer only identified as Héctor went to the airport to try to get on an earlier flight to ensure that he could get to Canada – and avoid hotel quarantine.
The suspension of flights is a heavy blow for the Mexican tourism sector, which had its most difficult year in living memory in 2020. (The Mexican economy slumped by 8.5% in 2020 – the worst contraction in almost 90 years – and tourism was one of the hardest hit sectors.)
Its announcement came just three days after a rule requiring travelers to the United States to present a negative Covid-19 test result took effect. The U.S. testing requirement and a new quarantine directive are expected to hurt Mexico’s tourism industry. The new Canadian restrictions will only exacerbate the pain.
The National Tourism Business Council (CNET) said that 2021 could end up being a much worse year for tourism than 2020.
The suspension of flights from Canada coupled with the Mexican government’s failure to launch a campaign that highlights what Mexico’s tourists destinations are doing to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection will result in the Easter vacation period being lost, CNET said.
Anáhuac University’s Center of Research and Tourism Competitiveness said that visitor numbers from Canada could decline by 95% in the first four months of the year and that the tourism sector will miss out on revenue of more than US $1 billion.
Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos are the most popular airports with Canadian visitors and therefore those destinations will be hurt the most by the three-month suspension of flights.
The Canadian and U.S. travel testing and quarantine requirements are also likely to have a negative impact on the summer vacation period, although the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has the potential to change the pandemic situation considerably by the middle of the year.
Mexico, Canada and the United States have all begun administering vaccines but the percentage of the population that has received a shot remains very low in all three countries.
Just over 662,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been administered to health workers in Mexico as of Friday night but the government’s vaccination program hasn’t yet reached seniors or any other sector of the population.