Nfld. & Labrador

Travellers on the move as N.L. reopens border to the rest of Canada

Thursday was the first day since May 2020 that people from outside the Atlantic region could visit Newfoundland and Labrador for non-essential travel.

Signs of hope and normalcy return to the St. John's International Airport

Lisa Bragg is director of business development and marketing for the St. John's International Airport Authority. A measure of success for airlines these days, she says, is fewer cancellations by passengers. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The runways at St. John's International Airport were drenched in fog Thursday morning, but a sunny warmth filled the airport as travel restrictions eased and families and friends were reunited outside, with many meeting for the first time in more than a year.

Travel ground to a halt in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the province closed its borders that May. The province reopened to non-essential travel Thursday, meaning it was the first time people from outside the Atlantic region could enter without an exemption and 14-day isolation.

Public health measures are still in effect, as partially vaccinated travellers must test negative for COVID-19 or isolate until they do, while fully vaccinated travellers don't have testing or isolation requirements.

The first flight of the day taxied into St. John's from Toronto just before 1:30 a.m. NT Thursday, and served as a welcome next step toward normalcy for Lisa Bragg.

"There's no magic button that makes things go to pre-pandemic levels, but everything is a sign of hope and a sign of reopening and moving back toward normal," Bragg, who is the director of business development and marketing for the St. John's International Airport Authority, told The St. John's Morning Show.

"[Airlines] are seeing an uptick in passengers on the flights. But they're starting to measure by fewer cancellations. Nobody ever thought that would be a measure of a flight's success, but that's where we are."

'It's so much better'

Bragg isn't the only one excited to see planes leaving the runway.

Allison Sharpe is travelling to Ontario for a month to visit her sister, and will end up coming back with a new puppy.

"It's so much better," Sharpe said when asked about the relaxed quarantine measures for incoming travellers.

"I'll be able to get my groceries, I'll be able to go for walks. Oh my God, I'll be able to see my friends. I'm probably going to be a little bit safe and take extra precautions, but just knowing that I don't have to come home and stay home in my house for two weeks will be amazing."

Newfoundland and Labrador's border officially opened to Canadians for non-essential travel on Thursday. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Stephen Janes was off to Prince Edward Island to visit family, and it was his first time flying since 2019. He wanted to wait for vaccination rates in the country to increase before travelling anywhere.

"So we're both fully vaccinated, so we're OK with the change. But we're just going to see some family after a long, almost two years now," Janes said.

His taxi driver, Gary Campbell, also hopes to be on the move as more travellers come and go from the province, and thinks it will be a welcome boost for business.

"We had a lot of drivers that once COVID came out, they stopped driving. So we don't have as many drivers as we used to," he said. 

"You used to get 15, 20, 25 cars here at times when different flights come in from Toronto and Montreal. That's been reduced greatly."

Travellers coming into St. John's International Airport can book a COVID-19 test prior to arrival if they require it. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Bragg said travellers both in and out of the airport will have a different experience, like the terminal being closed to those looking to welcome travellers.

A drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic has also been set up at the airport for travellers who require a COVID-19 test upon arrival.

"It's really important to check the public health guidelines for that COVID test.... Everybody recognizes it's a little different."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler

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