A Cold Lake resident is speaking up about the impact international travel restrictions are having on her family.
Daniela Duarte is a Canadian citizen married to a citizen of the Dominican Republic. Her husband is also a permanent resident of Canada while she is a legal resident of the Dominican Republic. Their two children ages nine and five are dual citizens of both countries.
“We have a huge extended family there. And things happen. People get sick. People need help, especially in a country where often people need a significant amount of help from their family members that are living outside,” said Duarte.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Jan. 29 that flights to sun destinations including the Caribbean and Mexico are suspended until at least April 30.
“With the challenges we face with COVID-19 both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying,” said Trudeau.
Federal and provincial politicians came under fire early in the year after it was revealed many had traveled outside Canada for leisure over the Christmas holidays.
“It just seems like a PR move, or a punishment based on some of the bad press that was coming up in December of politicians traveling to specifically those destinations,” said Duarte.
New travel restrictions announced by the federal government Jan. 29 require travelers returning by air to provide proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 pre-departure test and a three-night hotel reservation where they can begin their 14-day quarantine while waiting for a second negative test. That three-night hotel stay is estimated at $2,000 per person. They must also submit their quarantine plan and contact information through the ArriveCAN app.
Duarte, her husband, and their children last made the trip to the Dominican Republic in October to help their family recover from extensive property damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in July and Tropical Storm Laura in August.
“We put it off as long as we could, but we basically saw it as we need to do this now or never,” said Duarte.
They stayed for three weeks, and then quarantined at home in Cold Lake for two weeks when they returned to Canada.
“But we are continuously feeling that we’re going to be placed in a position where we’ll have to choose. We really have to make a choice, whether my family here is where I need to be close to, or our other family there is where I need to be close to. And that’s a very unfortunate thing,” said Duarte.
‘Lack of clear evidence’
For Duarte, the frustration with the new regulations stems from what she says is the lack of evidence of new strains of COVID-19 coming from sun destinations.
The Canadian government does publish a list of flights with COVID-19 exposures.
The most recent data available from Statistics Canada is current to Jan. 17, 2021. According to that data since Jan. 15, 2020 travel exposures resulted in 5,662 cases of COVID-19, including 1,509 in the Prairies and Northwest Territories Region. Specific data about the country of origin for the exposures is not available. Since April, 74 per cent of cases in Canada were the result of community transmission.
Decimating the middle class
The Dominican Republic is a developing country in the Caribbean. In 2020, it was ranked 117 out of 191 countries for gross domestic product based on purchasing power parity; Canada was ranked 168.
Duarte said there is also a lack of understanding from Canadians about how the restrictions impact both people with dual nationality and the economies of places like Punta Cana which are heavily reliant on tourism.
“At the beginning of 2020 the people that were really suffering were people that were already poor,” said Duarte, noting many of the people who first lost their jobs were domestic workers cleaning homes and nannies.
“But now the middle class of these countries is done. We’re talking about people who had decent, well-paying jobs in tourism. People with a university degree who were working in these resorts have now spent the good part of a year without an income.”
The government of the Dominican Republic does have some economic stimulus measures in place, including a social aid plan providing between CAD$110 and CAD$187 per month for independent and formal employees. According to Duarte, the cost of rent in Punta Cana is anywhere from USD$500 to USD$1,000 per month.
“And you can say, that’s some significant issues that the Dominican government has to deal with. And we all know that. But the fact of the matter is that people have spent a year without incomes. And many of these people were working for companies that have significant ties to Canada. It’s our airlines, it’s our tour operators, and we’re just kind of turning our back on all of this,” said Duarte.
In a follow up e-mail after the interview, Duarte said she’s been working with a group called Amigos Solidarios throughout much of the pandemic to provide groceries for people who lost their jobs.
“We were providing groceries for upwards of 200 households a week for months but now it’s becoming hard for those that were helping to continue helping as they themselves were tourism professionals from photographers, to wedding planners, performers, etc. just trying to help others in their community make it through.
“They believed as resorts slowly started to open in November that they would begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel, but with this latest news that hope is now gone,” said Duarte.