Ottawa’s decision to lift COVID-19 vaccination requirements for domestic travellers was welcome “good news” Tuesday in Manitoba’s tourism industry.

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Ottawa’s decision to lift COVID-19 vaccination requirements for domestic travellers was welcome "good news" Tuesday in Manitoba’s tourism industry.

"It’ll all play out over the summer, and we just hope for the best," said Linda Whitfield, Travel Manitoba’s vice-president of communications and stakeholder engagement.

The announcement from federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc also suspends the need for proof of vaccination for outbound international travellers and federally regulated workers.

<p>JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc says the federal government could bring back vaccination requirements in order to travel if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.</p>

JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc says the federal government could bring back vaccination requirements in order to travel if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.

The changes take effect Monday.

Requirements for foreign nationals entering Canada won’t change.

An estimated 80 per cent of businesses in the tourism sector were at risk of failing, according to Travel Manitoba’s 2020-21 annual report.

Ottawa’s move could bring visitors from key neighbouring provinces and abroad, Whitfield said, allowing that it could have a negative effect, as some people may choose to avoid travel via train, plane or passenger bus as the restrictions ease.

LeBlanc said the federal government could bring back vaccination requirements in order to travel if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.

Timothy Appleyard, who was waiting at the airport for his American girlfriend to arrive Tuesday, was already feeling apprehensive.

"I don’t think (the change) is the rightest move, considering a lot of places are spiking in COVID," said Appleyard, 22.

“I don’t think (the change) is the rightest move, considering a lot of places are spiking in COVID.” – Timothy Appleyard

"It doesn’t seem like the pandemic’s going to end any time soon."

He said he didn’t feel "overly" comfortable travelling among unvaccinated people, but said it wouldn’t stop him if a trip was necessary.

Ainsley McCracken welcomed the news as she left Winnipeg’s airport Tuesday.

"At this point, if you’re going to get (COVID-19), you’re going to get it," she said.

McCracken has had the virus twice — last May and a year before that — and said she has several friends who aren’t vaccinated, so travelling among other people who haven’t received a shot isn’t a concern for her.

Tyler MacAfee, Winnipeg Airports Authority’s vice-president of communications and government relations, said Ottawa’s announcement is a strong signal the federal government believes it’s now safe to travel.

"As those restrictions come off, I think more and more people are going to be looking to travel this summer," MacAfee said.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Travellers at the Winnipeg James Armstrong International Airport. A change announced Tuesday also suspends the need for proof of vaccination for outbound international travellers and federally regulated workers.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Travellers at the Winnipeg James Armstrong International Airport. A change announced Tuesday also suspends the need for proof of vaccination for outbound international travellers and federally regulated workers.

May traffic — just over 250,000 passengers — was about 70 per cent of the WAA’s pre-pandemic level, he said.

He said he’s looking at other countries where pandemic travel restrictions have been removed.

"That’s where we need to get to in Canada," he said. "(The changes don’t) get us all the way there, but it certainly gets us a step closer."

Removing the need to provide proof of vaccination might end some of the bottlenecks travellers are facing in some airports, such as Toronto’s Pearson International, MacAfee said.

"We’re managing pretty well here," he said, adding international travel hasn’t rebounded yet in Winnipeg.

Still, backlogs can occur during peak times as they did before the pandemic, he said.

Ed Friedle said he’d been waiting an hour for his family to emerge through the arrival doors Tuesday.

He’s hoping the mandate removal will alleviate backlogs.

"As far as health reasons go, I’m not sure where we’re at with that anymore," he said, noting he’s lost track of COVID-19 case numbers.

“As far as health reasons go, I’m not sure where we’re at with that anymore.” – Ed Friedle

LeBlanc said the travel change was "based on science," not a response to Canadian airport troubles.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported a steady decline of COVID-19 cases, though provinces aren’t providing COVID-19 molecular tests for the general public, and federal reporting has become less regimented.

"For the most part, (this is) a natural progression that we’re seeing as we’re learning to live with COVID," Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said Tuesday.

Davidson said he expects things to improve in the tourism industry, but not necessarily in the area of business travel.

"I don’t think business travel will pick up to where it was in the past," he said. "The use of technology makes it a lot easier to do… a lot of those meetings, but not everything can be done virtually or on Zoom."

He was in Toronto for a mining conference Tuesday. Some attendees wore masks, others went without, he said — similar to Richardson International Airport’s arrival section.

"I think what you’re starting to understand is what people’s comfort level is… and this is just the way things are going to be," he said.

Mandatory mask wearing continues to apply on planes and trains.

— With files from the Canadian Press

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.