BRAUN: Travel in the age of Omicron not for the faint of heart

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Getting away from it all is the essence of a holiday.

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Unfortunately, coming back might be a problem.

The highly-contagious Omicron variant is wreaking havoc with people’s travel plans, and the current scenario is absolute chaos — the rules are changing daily.

The federal government has asked people to avoid all nonessential international travel, so your ski holiday in Gstaad may have to be postponed.

(And please: no cruises.)

But should you wade through all the requirements and jet off as planned, please be very careful while you’re away.

A positive COVID test will keep you from getting on a plane to come home.

A positive COVID test will force you to quarantine in the country a person visits for another 10 to 14 days, and that’s going to be expensive. If you actually get sick, that’s a whole other problem.

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As the Canadian government travel website reads: “Local authorities abroad may impose control measures suddenly, including movement restrictions such as lockdowns. In some countries, you may have limited access to timely and appropriate health care should you become ill.”

To return home, you’ll need proof of a COVID-19 negative molecular test result or proof of a previous positive test result taken between 14 and 180 days ago.

The “short trip” that let you travel without that test for trips under 72 hours is suspended — you need that test now for any travel, short or long. (Yes, even to the U.S.)

Before returning home, you and everyone else entering Canada has to tell ArriveCan that you have a suitable place to quarantine.

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If you’re randomly selected for another COVID test when you land back in Canada, you’ll have to go to your place of quarantine and wait for the test results.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has said Canadian airports don’t have the capacity to fully test all (non-U.S.) international arrivals — yet.

“So many mixed messages,” says Toronto travel agent extraordinaire, Zilla Parker.

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“The government can only say ‘in the coming days’ that everyone entering Canada will be tested again, but there’s no way of knowing when. Right now, they don’t seem to have the staff.”

Parker has spent the last week cancelling people’s travel plans and trying to deal with the chaos.

She and her fellow agents have spent days on hold trying to get information for travellers about flights and insurance, about what can be changed or postponed, and so forth.

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“We can’t get through to anybody,” said Parker, who belongs to an ad hoc group of travel agents who help each other and share information.

None of them can get the answers travellers want.

What are the current restrictions? What forms do you need to fill out? What tests do you need? What are the time limits on the tests? Are you going to a red-list or a green-list country?

“I tell clients everything must be reviewed before departure, because every country has its own rules, and they’re changing all the time.”

And please, said Parker, read your travel insurance policy carefully — some specify that if you get sick in a country where the hospitals are full, they can’t help you. No hospital beds? You’re out of luck.

They won’t fly you home.

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“Read every single clause,” she advised.

Other advice?

Watch out for fake COVID tests.

In parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, and anywhere else locals are desperate for tourist dollars, there’s a whole industry in fake COVID tests.

You might get a false positive, forcing you to stay on to quarantine and spend more money in the country.

Or you might get a fake negative.

“Legitimate tests are $200 U.S. each, and you’re on a family holiday with five people — so when someone offers the same test for $40 people are tempted.

“You only find out the test is a fake when you get home to Canada. And then you get fined.”

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