Despite temptation to travel, most Yukon snowbirds are staying home this year

For some Yukoners, winters mean time on the beach. But in this pandemic year, it means time shoving stove, keeping the wood stove going, and dreaming about warmer climes.

'Virtually nobody' has travelled south since pandemic hit, says Whitehorse travel agency

People take a stroll on a beach in Encinitas, Calif., in September 2019. Yukoners who would normally flock to warmer climates aren't doing so this year because of COVID-19. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Most Yukoners who normally travel abroad to warmer climates this time of year are staying put.

"We spent an awful lot of money just getting home last year, and left a lot of money with the airline flights that they cancelled," said Whitehorse resident Vic Istchenko.

"So until that gets less precarious, we're not keen to fly anywhere. I mean, just to Vancouver and back is precarious enough these days."

Istchenko, who used to work for CBC North, is normally in Mexico during the winter, working on his tan at the beach, playing golf and hanging out with other Yukon friends.

But this year, for Istchenko and other Yukon snowbirds, it's shovelling snow, keeping the wood stove going and dreaming of warmer climes.

Istchenko said most flights home last winter were cancelled, and then cancelled again.

"Considering how precarious our last winter's outing was, it's just too risky. Until we've got our COVID shots and feel safe to travel, I don't think it's going to happen," he said.

Istchenko said this winter, he is playing bridge tournaments, by way of video calls, with friends who he'd normally play with in Mexico.

Travellers entering Canada need negative COVID-19 test

The federal government said recently any travellers coming into Canada need to have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding the plane.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said airlines will have to check the passengers and their tests. It's part of the effort to prevent any further spread of the virus and its variants within Canada.

Denis O'Brien, owner of Marlin Travel in Whitehorse, said "virtually nobody" has travelled far south since the pandemic hit. 

"We have had a handful of people who've gone out of the country, to southern climates, since this time last year. Virtually no one beyond March. I can count on two hands," he said.

"People are afraid to travel, and they may be in places where they can't get this test that the government wants them to have, O'Brien said.

O'Brien's downtown Whitehorse travel agency has never seen business so slow.

"I've been in the business for 36 years, and in 36 years, I never had a week when there were zero sales for mainline airlines."

O'Brien said most Yukon snowbirds are staying home because of the uncertainty of getting a negative COVID-19 test out of the country. They also remember what it was like last spring trying to catch a flight home when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.


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