Pandemic adds to pre-departure check-list

Would-be travellers – staycationers too – should think twice about plans, Loo says

Dr. Jennifer Loo, APH's associate medical officer of health, urges Sault and Algoma District residents to plan for COVID-19 avoidance if they should choose to travel this season, or even as they staycation if it will bring them in contact with many others. POSTMEDIA

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Now that Ontario has moved on to Stage 2 of its reopening plan, some businesses are beginning to recover, but due to border closures and hesitation from many to travel out of their home city, the tourism industry still feels the impact of the pandemic.
The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario says the province is expected to lose an estimated $11.4 billion in spending from international tourists this year due to COVID-19. During a tour through eastern Ontario earlier in June, Lisa McLeod, minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, said her ministry doesn’t think the tourism industry in Ontario will fully recover until 2024.
MacLeod encourages Ontarians to take “hyper-local” vacations as a means to limit travel and to support local tourism businesses. 
The federal government in its efforts to support the tourism industry pledged at the end of May to spend millions to promote travel within Canada. That money had originally been earmarked for Destination Canada to try to attract foreign visitors.
Ottawa has additionally promised about $40 million to tourism agencies in Northern and southern Ontario and western Canada to help them adapt their approaches for this travel season.
Inquiries to Tourism Sault Ste. Marie about how much of this funding is expected to come to the Sault were not answered.
Although polling has shown that 75 per cent of Ontarians are still uncomfortable even going to a farmers market at this stage of the pandemic, Algoma Public Health’s associate medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Loo said it is not too soon to start thinking about tourism within Canada.
“It’s never too early to plan for a safe reopening,” Loo told Sault This Week.
“COVID-19 is still circulating, which means that tourism operators will have to adapt and be prepared for the new normal. This might include changing up their spaces and environments to ensure physical distancing, stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, putting in new policies to keep guests safe, and training staff to be vigilant about distancing, cleaning, hand hygiene, and their own health,” she said.
One Ontario tourist attraction that has successfully adapted to new social distancing regulations is the Toronto Zoo. It developed the “Scenic Safari,” which allows visitors to tour the zoo in their own vehicles while listening to a pre-recorded guided audio tour.
Some provinces have imposed restrictions on inter- or intra-provincial travel, sometimes requiring visitors to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in the new province or city but Ontario has not set any such restrictions.
Therefore, Sault residents would be able to travel to southern Ontario, and travellers from other cities are able to visit the Sault.
Loo said those considering such travel should ask themselves two key questions.
The first is whether you might come into contact with people from outside of their immediate household or exclusive social circle of 10.
“If yes, people should consider rethinking their travel or accommodation plans, so that they can maintain physical distancing from others at all times,” said Loo.
“The likelihood of inadvertent close contacts can be higher in bigger cities or popular destinations where there are simply more people in public places. And the risk of a close contact exposure leading to infection is higher in communities with higher rates of COVID-19 transmission.”
Loo recommends potential travellers check their destination community’s recent rates of infection by visiting the community’s public health unit website or Ontario’s daily epidemiologic summary report.
The second question potential travellers should ask themselves is whether they’ll be able to get health care if they do become sick, Loo says.
“If no, again, people should rethink their plans, especially for those with underlying medical conditions who may need care urgently if they become sick,” said Loo. “Another important reason why we often encourage people to stay close to home is that if an outbreak happens while there is a surge of tourists in a small community, this can overwhelm the capacity of local clinics and hospitals.”
Distance travelled for a vacation is not the ultimate deciding factor for whether or not the vacation is safe when it comes to COVID-19, Loo said. 
“Risk of contracting the virus really boils down to who you are coming into close contact with.
“A staycation in town is not necessarily low risk if someone decides to have a dozen friends from different households over for a sleepover – plus social gatherings of more than 10 are still not permitted under the provincial emergency orders. An out-of-town camping trip with just the immediate family, and no contact with anyone else, may be fairly low risk.”

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