British Columbia

Summer in Canada will be better if all goes well, but experts aren't booking travel just yet

People across Canada can't wait to plan for a summer that should feel lighter in every sense of the word. But while vaccines and warmer weather bring hope of a semi-normal life, experts caution any vaccine slowdown or variant surge could threaten plans.

It's healthy to plan for the future after a tough year, but stay 'grounded in reality'

A woman walks between rows of sunflowers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Robbie Boyal bought the Jayco trailer last year, a purchase he never would have made if life had stayed normal. It was an aluminum house-on-wheels for a father and husband who, having grown up in Brampton, about 45 km northwest of Toronto, did not like camping one bit.

But he's come around. His wife loves it. His daughters love it. Boyal, who lives in Langley, about 45 km southeast of Vancouver, now somehow finds himself lining up outside the gates of Golden Ears Provincial Park, about 50 km east of Vancouver, at 5:30 a.m. to wait for a spot. 

"It's grown on me ... Alice Lake, Hicks Lake, Manning Park," Boyal said, rattling off his list of places to camp in the province this summer. 

"Manning is the best. We usually do it once a year but, this year I want to do it twice."

Experts urge caution

Boyal and his family are like many people across Canada who, after a winter cooped up with unrelenting anxiety, cannot wait to plan for a summer that should feel lighter in every sense of the word. But while vaccines and warmer weather bring hope of a semi-normal life, experts caution any vaccine slowdown or variant surge could threaten plans if the country isn't careful.

Canada is currently in a race to vaccinate as much of the public, as soon as possible, while preventing a surge in cases.

Despite a sluggish start to the vaccine campaign, health officers have been encouraged lately. Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, thinks the need for massive lockdowns could be over before September. Meanwhile, B.C.'s health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said the province could be in its "post-pandemic world by this summer" if things keep going the way they are.

Robbie Boyal stands next to his trailer in Golden Ears Provincial Park in Maple Ridge, B.C., in March. Boyal and his family plan to spend the summer camping as much as they can, keeping an eye on pandemic restrictions. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

The shreds of optimism have been more than enough permission for antsy travellers. Dan and Lynn Jensen rent out their three-bedroom Muskoka cottage in Bracebridge, about 200 km north of Toronto. Within three days of opening for reservations last October, they were fully booked for the summer.

"We have a waitlist," Lynn Jensen said, speaking from the Bracebridge cottage on Healey Lake. "We could probably rent it over twice right now."

Lynn and Dan Jensen fully rented their Muskoka cottage for the summer within three days of opening up for reservations last October. (Georgie Smyth/CBC)

Epidemiologists cautiously agree summer travel is a strong possibility.

"I think that people can start sketching out options and planning ahead somewhat. But I wouldn't be booking tickets at this point because things can change. That's one thing that we've seen in the pandemic again and again," said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Monitoring caseloads to avoid future waves

Saxinger said Canada needs to carefully monitor how much variants contribute to any rise in caseload to avoid third, variant-driven waves like those setting back other countries like Denmark, the U.K., and, most recently, Italy.

Halifax-based epidemiologist Kevin Wilson said the later in the summer you book, the safer.

"I usually fly out to Ottawa in the summer to see family that are in the area of their 60s and 70s ... This year I won't be going for June and probably I won't be going in July. At some point [in August], maybe, but I haven't booked my flight yet."

International travel is complex, shifting landscape with layers of risk, and both experts agreed it's smarter to plan to stay local this year.

Boyal is already planning his summer camping trips in B.C., staying local and skipping the trip home to Ontario until he and his parents are fully vaccinated. 

Three women walk along the boardwalk in Steveston Harbour, about 20 km south of Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Both Wilson and Saxinger said the pandemic is ending, and it's healthy to look forward.

Saxinger said it's hard to say what degree of normalcy to expect, but that it will be an improvement. 

"I really think the summer will look a lot better for different reasons," she said.

"If we do everything strategically and do everything well, I think that we can look forward to lots of experiences that we've missed for the last year. Just keep a solid founding in reality."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

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