Nova Scotia

COVID-19 grounds charter flights from China

In December, Premier Stephen McNeil announced two charter flights would be coming here in the fall with as many as 271 people on each flight. The hope was those charter flights would be another step toward securing direct commercial flights between here and China.

2 flights were scheduled to arrive in Halifax this fall

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan says the government is bracing for a difficult tourism season this year. (Robert Short/CBC)

As Nova Scotia prepares to reopen to visitors from across Canada, it won't be receiving tourists from China as soon as expected.

In December, Premier Stephen McNeil announced two charter flights would be coming to Nova Scotia in the fall with as many as 271 people on each flight. The hope was those charter flights would be another step toward securing direct commercial flights between the province and China.

But Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said on Thursday the charter flights have been delayed. He could not say when they would be rescheduled.

"The writing was on the wall," MacLellan told reporters on a teleconference following a cabinet meeting.

A hallmark of McNeil's time as premier has been efforts to strengthen ties between the province and China, something that's resulted in a massive expansion of exports, particularly seafood.

A key goal of that effort has been the establishment of a direct commercial flight.

'A broad-reaching direct impact'

MacLellan said the government had high hopes that the charter flights, which would go from Guangzhou to Halifax, would be a benefit to tourism development. Passengers would have toured parts of this province, along with New Brunswick and P.E.I.

"That was a critical step forward in terms of our growth as a sector," he said.

"It has a broad-reaching direct impact and certainly a psychological impact for us as we try to hold the tourism sector together."

MacLellan said officials in his department and with Tourism Nova Scotia have held out hope in broader terms for this year's tourism season, but he said it's clear things will be difficult. 

"Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy," he said.

The minister said his government continues to look for ways to help the tourism industry weather the effects of COVID-19.

Officials have said the closed border between Canada and the United States, large uncertainty around air travel, and even the expected reluctance for many people to stray far from home this year all add up to a difficult scenario for operators.

The CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia estimates the virus and its effects will cost the province at least $1 billion.

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