ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Staff at the airport in St. John's are getting ready for more flights and an influx of passengers as Newfoundland and Labrador's controversial pandemic travel ban is finally set to lift.
Thursday will be the first day in nearly 14 months that Newfoundland and Labrador will welcome travellers from all over Canada without requiring they first get clearance from the government.
"It's really emotional," Lisa Bragg, director of marketing and business development for the St. John's International Airport Authority, said in an interview Wednesday.
"But we don't want anybody to think that this is the flick of a button and things return to normal quickly just because the borders are open … it's gradual and it takes a lot."
Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador first introduced its so-called travel ban on May 4, 2020, which restricted access for everyone not deemed essential. Anyone wishing to visit the province had to apply for entry and if they were allowed in, most had to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association unsuccessfully challenged the ban in court after Kim Taylor, a Nova Scotia resident, was denied entry to the province to attend her mother's funeral.
Restrictions were loosened a bit last July when the four Atlantic premiers introduced a travel bubble, allowing Atlantic Canadians to travel freely within the region without having to isolate. The Atlantic bubble, however, burst in late November when COVID-19 cases surged once again in the region.
Nova Scotia opened its boundaries to Canadian travellers on Wednesday, after New Brunswick did the same in mid-June. Prince Edward Island will open to the rest of the country on July 18.
During a news conference Wednesday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, said the travel ban will officially end at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Fully vaccinated Canadians, she said, will be able to visit the province without having to ask permission or to self-isolate. Partially vaccinated Canadians will have to present a negative result from a COVID-19 test administered within three days of their departure date, or they can isolate until they get a negative test result.
Travellers can submit their proof of vaccination online and are required to complete a travel form, Fitzgerald said. "It is important to remember that this new form is not an approval or a denial of travel — all travellers are permitted to enter the province," she said.
Fitzgerald reported just one new case of COVID-19 Wednesday and said the province had five active cases.
As of Monday, 79 per cent of residents aged 12 and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 17 per cent had received two doses. Premier Andrew Furey noted those figures put the province well beyond its goal of having at least one dose into the arms of 75 per cent of the eligible population by Canada Day.
"It is a good day in Newfoundland and Labrador," he told reporters. "We want to thank you for your sacrifice, and enjoy the warm embrace of loved ones as they return home."
Back at the airport, Bragg said those hugs will have to carry on outside. The airport authority will be enforcing physical distancing protocols and allowing only passengers and employees in the terminal, Bragg said.
She noted, however, that moving the long-awaited reunions outdoors hasn't dampened any emotions so far. "It's really lovely, actually, when you walk out," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2021.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press