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Travellers nervous as Omicron cases surge, but pushing ahead with plans


TORONTO — Some travellers heading out of Canada on Thursday said they're worried about surging COVID-19 cases, but are forging ahead with their plans despite the federal government warning against non-essential international travel.

Sanjay Mahar said he is heading to India from Toronto to see his family for the first time in years, having booked the trip a few months ago when case counts were low and vaccination rates high.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to avoid international travel as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has caused cases to spike in recent days.

"It was upsetting to hear the prime minister say that, but I understand the concern," he said at Toronto Pearson Airport.

"I thought a lot about it last night, called the airline, but couldn't get through so it wasn't clear if I could get any money back."

But after talking it over with his wife in Mississauga, Ont., and his parents, he decided to go.

"My dad's health is poor and I do really want to see him," he said, his voice trailing off. 

"What if I didn't go and I never saw him again? It's a risk, but I decided to take it."

Jennifer Johnson waited in line to have her temperature checked before heading to security.

She was off to see her daughter in Boston so they could be together for the holidays.

"We thought we were in the clear just last month, being fully vaccinated and life slowly returning to what it used to be, so I booked the flight," Johnson said.

"I'm still going, but we are talking about cancelling my return flight and driving back to Canada."

Sunil Dev kissed his wife and little girls as he dropped them off at the airport so they could return home to Delhi. 

They had been visiting him on vacation while he works on a contract in Toronto.

"We're worried, for sure, and it's a long flight, but, really, we have no choice, they must go home," he said.

The family is thinking about moving to Canada and this break was a chance to get to know the country better. 

"Listening to the news and the prime minister yesterday, we got more worried, but we are also a family and seeing my children has given me great joy," he said.

"I now just hope, hope, hope the flight goes OK and COVID doesn't appear."

A few hundred kilometres away, in the border city of Windsor, Ont., Mayor Drew Dilkens said he's “delighted” that the federal government didn’t take further measures to restrict Canada-U.S. land border access.

"The land border closure made life very, very difficult," he said. 

"It took an emotional toll on people on both sides of the border who were disconnected."

Dilkens said the restrictions that are currently in place are "basically the gold standard" and that he believes people who have planned trips to the U.S. will mostly follow through, but will take precautionary measures to protect themselves from COVID-19. 

"I think the whole situation is a little frustrating for everyone, especially those that are fully vaccinated,” said Dilkens. “But smart and reasonable people get that this is likely to continue for several years and we're going to have to be able to adjust and adapt to the circumstances." 

As chair of the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Commission, Dilkens noted that while the land border remains open, there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in traffic at the tunnel since it opened last month. 

"So it's not like even with the border open, people are choosing to cross in great numbers," he said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2021.

- With files from Noushin Ziafati

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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